Background: The association of calcineurin inhibitors (CNIs) with mTOR inhibitors (mTORi) is still a problem in clinical practice and there is substantial interest in better understanding the impact of these associations on kidney toxicity. We aimed to analyse the functional and histological profiles of damage and to define the contribution of inflammatory and pro-fibrotic mediators in the association of cyclosporine (CsA) and/or tacrolimus (Tac) with sirolimus (SRL).
Methods: A well-defined model of nephrotoxicity in salt-depleted male rats was used. Monotherapy groups were distributed as a non-treated control group with saline solution (n = 12), the Tac group (n = 16) (tacrolimus 6 mg/kg/day) and the CsA group (n = 13) (CsA 15 mg/kg/day). The groups with different associations were scattered as the Tac + SRL group (n = 14) (tacrolimus 6 mg/kg/day and rapamycin 3 mg/kg/day) and the CsA + SRL group (n = 7) (CsA 15 mg/kg/day and rapamycin 3 mg/kg/day). Groups were divided into 30 and 70 days of follow-up, but the CsA + SRL group was only studied for 30 days because animals became sick.
Results: Rats with the CsA + SRL association were the only ones which showed a significant reduction in body weight, impairment of renal function and severe and diffuse tubular vacuolization and tubular atrophy following a striped distribution, and scarce areas of the kidney were still preserved. The Tac + SRL association did not produce renal function impairment, and mild histological damage including enhanced periglomerular tubular atrophy was observed. This local damage affected the distal convoluted tubule involving macula densa and juxtaglomerular apparatus. Pro-inflammatory mediators paralleled functional and structural data. ED-1 and TNF-alpha were noticeably higher in the CsA + SRL than in the Tac + SRL association. Only in the CsA + SRL association an important increase in alpha-SMA+ cells was seen, mainly found in the areas with tubular atrophy. TGF-beta1 was also markedly enhanced in the CsA + SRL association whilst monotherapy or Tac + SRL groups at 30 days TGF-beta1 did not show any changes. However, at 70 days of treatment TGF-beta1 was significantly increased in the Tac + SRL group. Animals receiving SRL showed a decrease in renal vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) expression. This growth factor was significantly down-regulated in both CNI associations than in SRL monotherapy. P-glycoprotein (Pgp) was overexpressed in CsA and CsA + SRL therapy whilst Tac and TAC + SRL showed a middle increase Pgp expression but higher than the control and SRL group.
Conclusion: We conclude that the association of SRL with high doses of CsA or Tac produces a different functional, histological, inflammatory and pro-fibrogenic pattern. Thus, the addition of SRL to high doses of CsA leads to severe renal injury. Combination with high doses of Tac is clearly less deleterious in the short term. However, there is a low grade of pro-fibrotic inflammatory expression when this association is prolonged.