Background: Long-term corticosteroid treatment impairs growth and increases cardiovascular risk factors. Hence, steroid withdrawal constitutes a major topic in paediatric renal transplantation and maintenance immunosuppression.
Methods: The lack of data from randomised controlled trials caused us to conduct the first prospective, randomised, multicentre study on late steroid withdrawal among paediatric kidney allograft recipients treated with standard-dose cyclosporine microemulsion (CsA) and mycophenolate mofetil (MMF) for 2 years. Forty-two low- or regular-immunologic risk patients were randomly assigned, >or=1 year post-transplant, to continue taking or to withdraw steroids over 3 months.
Results: Two years after steroid withdrawal, they showed a longitudinal growth superior to controls [mean height standard deviation score (SDS) gain, 0.6 +/- 0.1 SDS versus -0.2 +/- 0.1 SDS (P < 0.001)]. The prevalence of the metabolic syndrome declined significantly (P < 0.05), 2 years after steroid withdrawal, from 39% (9/23) to 6% (1/16). Steroid-free patients had less frequent arterial hypertension (50% versus 93% (P < 0.05)) and required fewer antihypertensive drugs [0.6 +/- 0.2 versus 1.5 +/- 0.3 (P < 0.05 versus control)]. Additionally, they had a significantly improved carbohydrate and lipid metabolism with fewer hypercholesterolaemia and hypertriglyceridaemia (P < 0.05 versus control). Patient and graft survival amounted to 100%. Allograft function remained stable 2 years after steroid withdrawal. The incidence of acute rejections was similar in the steroid-withdrawal group (1/23, 4%) and controls (2/19, 11%).
Conclusion: Late steroid withdrawal in selected CsA- and MMF-treated paediatric kidney transplant recipients improves growth, mitigates cardiovascular risk factors and reduces the prevalence of the metabolic syndrome, at no increased risk of acute rejection or unstable graft function.