Background: Although the use of aggressive immunosuppression has improved both patient and renal survival of patients with lupus nephritis (LN), the optimal treatment of LN remains challenging. The objective of this study is to assess the efficacy and safety of mycophenolate mofetil (MMF) and tacrolimus compared with intravenous cyclophosphamide (IVC) as induction therapies for active lupus nephritis (ALN).
Methods: In this open-label, 24-week prospective study, 60 patients with biopsy-proven ALN (Classes III, IV, V or combination) were randomly assigned to receive MMF, tacrolimus or IVC in combination with corticosteroids. The remission of proteinuria, systemic lupus erythematosus disease active index and adverse events were compared.
Results: The response rates at 24 weeks were 70% (14/20) in the MMF group, 75% (15/20) in the tacrolimus group and 60% (12/20) in the IVC group (P>0.05). The complete remission rates were also similar in the three groups (40, 45 and 30%, respectively; P>0.05). There were more cases of infection in the IVC group (8/20) and the MMF group (8/20) than the tacrolimus group (3/20) and more hyperglycemia in the tacrolimus group (5/20) than the other two groups (2 or 3/20), but the results were not statistically significant among the three groups. Proteinuria decreased and serum albumin increased more quickly in the patients treated with tacrolimus (P=0.0051 and P=0.048).
Conclusions: This pilot study suggests that both MMF and tacrolimus are possible alternatives to IVC as induction therapies for ALN in Chinese patients. Tacrolimus possibly results in a faster resolution of proteinuria and hypoalbuminemia. Further studies are necessary to determine the optimal dosage and duration of the therapies.