Background: Renal involvement is one of the major determinants of the outcome in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus. Renal involvement contributes to both morbidity and mortality of the patients as well as indirectly through side effects of therapy directed at the renal lesions. The aim of the study was to evaluate the efficacy of mycophenolate mofetil (MMF) and azathioprine (AZA) in the maintenance therapy of lupus nephritis.
Methods: Thirty-two patients from our center with diagnosed lupus nephritis World Health Organization Class III, IV, V were treated with IVC (0.75-1g/month) for six months in addition to steroid therapy, and then with AZA (n = 15) or MMF (n = 17) as a maintenance therapy. The efficacy of two drugs was compared with changes in serum creatinine, creatinine clearance, 24 hour urine protein excretion, cholesterol, anti-dsDNA antibody, and urine sediment.
Results: Mean follow-up time was 41.5 + 7 months. The total remission occurred in 84% of patients (82% with MMF and 87% with AZA), with a complete remission rate of 59.3% (58% with MMF and 60% with AZA) and a partial remission rate of 25% (22% with MMF and 27% with AZA). The urinary protein excretion before MMF treatment was 1.9 + 1 g/dL and decreased significantly to 0.91 + 0.6 g/dL (p = 0.028) after treatment, and decreased from 1.58 + 0.7 g/dL to 0.4 + 0.23 g/dL in the AZA group (p = 0.04). The serum creatinine level decreased from 1.32 + 0.7 mg/dL to 1.12 + 0.68 mg/dL in the MMF group (p = 0.23), and decreased from 0.91 + 0.23 mg/dL to 0.88 + 0.23 mg/dL in the AZA group (p = 0.49). There was no significant change between two groups (p = 0.1). The serum cholesterol decreased from 229 + 57 mg/dL to 171 + 9 mg/dL (p = 0.002), and serum triglyceride level decreased from 228 + 116 mg/dL to 98 + 35 mg/dL (p = 0.004) in the MMF treatment, but no significant change was seen in AZA group. There was no significant difference between the two groups considering the rates of doubling of serum creatinine, progression to end-stage renal failure, relapses, and documented side effects, as well.
Conclusion: Both therapeutic approaches with MMF or AZA, in combination with corticosteroids, are effective as a maintenance therapy for lupus nephritis.