Repeat kidney biopsies fail to detect differences between azathioprine and mycophenolate mofetil maintenance therapy for lupus nephritis: data from the MAINTAIN Nephritis Trial

Nephrol Dial Transplant. 2012 May;27(5):1924-30. doi: 10.1093/ndt/gfr553. Epub 2011 Nov 22.


Background: In the MAINTAIN Nephritis Trial, azathioprine (AZA) and mycophenolate mofetil (MMF) were compared as maintenance immunosuppressive treatment of proliferative lupus nephritis (LN) after a short-course of intravenous cyclophosphamide. Here, we compare the pathological findings on repeat kidney biopsies between the two groups.

Methods: Per protocol, repeat renal biopsies were obtained in 30 patients (16 AZA and 14 MMF) at 2 years (±6 months). Baseline and follow-up biopsies were graded according to the International Society of Nephrology/Renal Pathological Society (ISN/RPS) classification. The activity and chronicity indices (AI, CI) were calculated using two different semiquantitative scoring systems (Morel-Maroger and National Institutes of Health). Statistics were performed by non-parametric tests.

Results: The clinical characteristics of the 30 re-biopsied patients only marginally differ from the entire MAINTAIN cohort (105 patients). Clinical baseline and follow-up characteristics of AZA- and MMF-treated re-biopsied patients did not differ. Time (SD) to repeat renal biopsy was 25.0 (2.0) and 26.5 (3.3) months in AZA and MMF patients, respectively. More patients had normal renal biopsies or Classes I/II/V LN at follow-up compared to baseline and conversely, less patients had Class IV LN at follow-up. In both groups, the AI statistically decreased at follow-up compared to baseline, while the CI slightly, but significantly, increased. No differences could be detected between the groups.

Conclusion: Centralized pathological analyses, including ISN/RPS classification and comparisons of AI/CI, failed to find differences between MMF and AZA at 2 years, a result well in line with the absence of difference in long-term clinical outcome reported elsewhere.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Azathioprine / therapeutic use*
  • Biopsy / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Incidence
  • Kidney / pathology*
  • Lupus Nephritis / drug therapy*
  • Lupus Nephritis / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mycophenolic Acid / analogs & derivatives*
  • Mycophenolic Acid / therapeutic use
  • Pain / epidemiology
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult


  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Mycophenolic Acid
  • Azathioprine