Treatment for lupus nephritis

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Dec 12:12:CD002922. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD002922.pub3.


Background: Cyclophosphamide, in combination with corticosteroids has been used to induce remission in proliferative lupus nephritis, the most common kidney manifestation of the multisystem disease, systemic lupus erythematosus. Cyclophosphamide therapy has reduced mortality from over 70% in the 1950s and 1960s to less than 10% in recent years. Cyclophosphamide combined with corticosteroids preserves kidney function but is only partially effective and may cause ovarian failure, infection and bladder toxicity. Several new agents, including mycophenolate mofetil (MMF), suggest reduced toxicity with equivalent rates of remission. This is an update of a Cochrane review first published in 2004.

Objectives: To assess the benefits and harms of different immunosuppressive treatments in biopsy-proven proliferative lupus nephritis.

Search methods: For this update, we searched the Cochrane Renal Group's Specialised Register (up to 15 April 2012) through contact with the Trials' Search Coordinator using search terms relevant to this review.

Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and quasi-RCTs comparing any treatments for biopsy-proven lupus nephritis in both adult and paediatric patients with class III, IV, V +III and V +IV lupus nephritis were included. All immunosuppressive treatments were considered.

Data collection and analysis: Data were abstracted and quality assessed independently by two authors, with differences resolved by discussion. Dichotomous outcomes were reported as risk ratio (RR) and measurements on continuous scales reported as mean differences (MD) with 95% confidence intervals (CI).

Main results: We identified 50 RCTs involving 2846 participants. Of these, 45 studies (2559 participants) investigated induction therapy, and six studies (514 participants), considered maintenance therapy.Compared with intravenous (IV) cyclophosphamide, MMF was as effective in achieving stable kidney function (5 studies, 523 participants: RR 1.05, 95% CI 0.94 to 1.18) and complete remission of proteinuria (6 studies, 686 participants: RR 1.16, 95% CI 0.85 to 1.58). No differences in mortality (7 studies, 710 participants: RR 1.02, 95% CI 0.52 to 1.98) or major infection (6 studies, 683 participants: RR 1.11, 95% CI 0.74 to 1.68) were observed. A significant reduction in ovarian failure (2 studies, 498 participants: RR 0.15, 95% CI 0.03 to 0.80) and alopecia (2 studies, 522 participants: RR 0.22, 95% CI 0.06 to 0.86) was observed with MMF. In maintenance therapy, the risk of renal relapse (3 studies, 371 participants: RR 1.83, 95% CI 1.24 to 2.71) was significantly higher with azathioprine compared with MMF. Multiple other interventions were compared but outcome data were relatively sparse. Overall study quality was variable. The internal validity of the design, conduct and analysis of the included RCTs was difficult to assess in some studies because of the omission of important methodological details. No study adequately reported all domains of the risk of bias assessment so that elements of internal bias may be present.

Authors' conclusions: MMF is as effective as cyclophosphamide in inducing remission in lupus nephritis, but is safer with a lower risk of ovarian failure. MMF is more effective than azathioprine in maintenance therapy for preventing relapse with no increase in clinically important side effects. Adequately powered trials with long term follow-up are required to more accurately define the risks and eventual harms of specific treatment regimens.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Azathioprine / therapeutic use
  • Child
  • Cyclophosphamide / therapeutic use*
  • Glucocorticoids / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Induction Chemotherapy / methods
  • Lupus Nephritis / drug therapy*
  • Maintenance Chemotherapy / methods
  • Mycophenolic Acid / analogs & derivatives*
  • Mycophenolic Acid / therapeutic use
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


  • Glucocorticoids
  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Cyclophosphamide
  • Mycophenolic Acid
  • Azathioprine