Objectives: The treatment of pure membranous (class V) lupus nephropathy remains unsatisfactory. We studied the efficacy and safety of tacrolimus in the treatment of membranous nephritis secondary to SLE.
Methods: We recruited 18 consecutive SLE patients (tacrolimus group) with recently confirmed biopsy-proven class V lupus nephritis. They were treated with a tailing dose of oral prednisolone and tacrolimus 0.1-0.2 mg/kg/day for 6 months, followed by maintenance prednisolone and AZA. The rate of resolution of proteinuria and SLEDAI were compared with 19 historical controls treated with oral cyclophosphamide or AZA (control group). All patients were followed for 12 months.
Results: Baseline clinical characteristics were comparable between the groups. For the tacrolimus group, the complete and partial remission rates were 27.8 and 50.0%, respectively at 12 weeks; for the control group, they were 15.8 and 47.4%, respectively (overall chi-square test, P = 0.5). However, tacrolimus group had faster resolution of proteinuria than the control group by the general linear model with repeated measures (P = 0.032). At 12 weeks, proteinuria was reduced by 76.2 +/- 17.0% for the tacrolimus group and 47.1 +/- 51.1% for the control group (P = 0.028). Serial change in renal function and SLEDAI score did not differ between the groups. During the study period, four patients of the tacrolimus group, and 11 of the control group, developed lupus flare (P = 0.027). There was no serious adverse effect in the tacrolimus group.
Conclusions: A 6-month course of tacrolimus is a safe and effective treatment of pure class V (membranous) lupus nephritis. As compared with conventional cytotoxic treatment, tacrolimus possibly results in a faster resolution of proteinuria, and a lower risk of lupus flare within 1 yr. The long-term effect and optimal regimen of tacrolimus require further study.