Azathioprine in liver transplantation: a reevaluation of its use and a comparison with mycophenolate mofetil

Am J Transplant. 2009 Aug;9(8):1725-31. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-6143.2009.02705.x. Epub 2009 Jun 16.


Calcineurin inhibitors (CNIs) combined with steroids with or without azathioprine (AZA), have been a standard immunosuppression regimen after liver transplantation (LT). Since 2000 many centers have substituted AZA by mycophenolate mofetil (MMF). However, in LT the superiority of MMF over AZA is not clearly demonstrated. Therefore, we questioned the benefit of MMF versus AZA in LT with regard to rejection, renal dysfunction and hepatitis C virus (HCV) recurrence and survival. Using a literature search, relevant randomized controlled trials (RCT) and cohort studies were identified: two RCTs compared MMF to AZA only for acute rejection. Treated rejection was less with MMF in only one RCT (38.5% vs. 47.7%; p = 0.025), with no difference in patient and graft survival. No RCTs compared MMF and AZA in patients with CNI-related chronic renal dysfunction. Among two studies evaluating MMF, with substitution of AZA, one was stopped due to severe rejection. Recurrent HCV was less severe in 5/9 studies with AZA compared with 2/17 using MMF, six of which documented worse recurrence. Published data in LT show little, if any, clinical benefit of MMF versus AZA. RCTs should reevaluate AZA in LT. Evaluation of HCV replication and recurrence will be particularly important as AZA may have advantages over MMF.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Azathioprine / therapeutic use*
  • Graft Rejection / prevention & control
  • Hepatitis C / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Kidney / physiopathology
  • Liver Transplantation / immunology*
  • Mycophenolic Acid / analogs & derivatives*
  • Mycophenolic Acid / therapeutic use


  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Mycophenolic Acid
  • Azathioprine