Background: Whether corticosteroid and immunosuppressive therapy may be safely withdrawn in patients with proliferative lupus nephritis is still unclear.
Methods: In 32 patients with biopsy-proven proliferative lupus nephritis previously put into remission, therapy was gradually tapered off.
Results: When immunosuppressive therapy was stopped (median: 38 months; 25th-75th percentile: 24-81 months, after biopsy), 24 patients were in complete remission and eight had a median proteinuria of 1.05 g/24 h (25th-75th percentile: 0.91-1.1 g/24 h) with normal renal function. After stopping therapy, patients were followed for a median of 203 months (25th-75th percentile: 116-230 months). Fifteen patients (Group 1) never developed lupus activity. The other 17 patients (Group 2) developed lupus exacerbations in a median of 34 months (25th-75th percentile: 29-52 months) after stopping therapy and were re-treated. The only significant differences between the two groups were the longer median durations of treatment, 57 months (25th-75th percentile: 41.5-113.5 months) vs 30 months (25th-75th percentile: 18-41 months; P<0.009), and remission, 24 months (25th-75th percentile: 18-41) vs 12 months (25th-75th percentile: 7-20 months; P<0.02), before stopping therapy in Group 1 than in Group 2. At last follow-up, 12 patients of Group 1 were in complete remission, two had mild proteinuria and one had died. In Group 2, one patient died, 14 were in complete remission, one had mild proteinuria and in another patient serum creatinine doubled.
Conclusions: Some patients with severe lupus nephritis who enter stable remission can be maintained without any specific treatment for many years. Those patients who have new flares can again go into remission with an appropriate treatment. The longer the treatment and remission before withdrawal, the lower the risk of relapse.