Lupus Nephritis: A Different Disease in European Patients?

Kidney Dis (Basel). 2015 Sep;1(2):110-8. doi: 10.1159/000438844. Epub 2015 Aug 28.


Background: Lupus nephritis (LN) is still associated with significant mortality and substantial risk of progression to end-stage renal failure. Its outcome is related to the class and severity of LN and response to treatment, and it is poorer in patients with renal relapses. Ethnicity has a relatively well-defined impact on the outcome of the patients and their response to treatment and must always be taken into consideration in treatment decisions.

Summary: In this article, we provide a review of the impact of ethnicity on the prevalence of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), the proportion of patients with SLE developing LN, outcomes of SLE and LN and response of LN to treatment. In European patients, the prevalence of SLE and the proportion of SLE patients with LN are lower and the outcome of LN is better than in nonwhite populations. European patients may respond better to some modes of treatment [e.g. cyclophosphamide (CYC) or rituximab] and may be less frequently refractory to treatment compared to black patients with LN. Although these differences may be largely genetically driven, socioeconomic factors (poverty, education, insurance, access to health care and adherence to treatment) may also play a significant role in some disadvantaged patients.

Key message: Treatment of LN may be different in patients with different ethnicity. Less aggressive disease in European patients may better respond to less aggressive treatment. Treatment of LN in nonwhite patients may require newer (more effective) therapeutic approaches, but targeting negative socioeconomic factors might be even more effective.

Facts from east and west: (1) The prevalence of SLE is lower among Caucasians than other ethnicities. A higher prevalence is observed among Asians and African Americans, while the highest prevalence is found in Caribbean people. The prevalence of LN in Asian SLE patients is much higher than in Caucasians as well. However, the 10-year renal outcome and renal survival rate appear to be better in Asians. (2) Polymorphisms of genes involved in the immune response, such as Fcγ receptor, integrin alpha M, TNF superfamily 4, myotubularin-related protein 3 and many others, might be partly responsible for the differences in prevalence between the different ethnic groups. European ancestry was shown to be associated with a decrease in the risk of LN even after adjustment for genes most associated with renal disease. (3) Access to health care is a key determinant of disease progression, treatment outcome and the management of complications such as infections, particularly in South Asia, and might also explain disparities between clinical outcomes. (4) The efficacy of low-dose CYC combined with corticosteroids for induction treatment of LN was proved in European Caucasian patients. This treatment is also used in Asia, although no formal evaluation of efficacy and safety in comparison with other treatment regimens exists in this population. The efficacy of mycophenolate mofetil (MMF) is similar to that of CYC, and similar between Asians and Caucasians. MMF may be more effective than CYC in inducing response in high-risk populations such as African American or Hispanic patients. MMF might cause less infection-related events in Asians, but its high cost prevents broader usage at present. (5) For maintenance therapy, corticosteroid combined with azathioprine (AZA) or MMF is used worldwide, with a broadly similar efficacy of both treatments, although there are data suggesting that in high-risk populations (e.g. African Americans) MMF may be more effective in preventing renal flares. AZA is often preferred in Asia due to economic constraints and because of its safety in pregnancy. (6) Alternative therapies under investigation include rituximab, which might be more efficient in Caucasians, as well as belimumab. Recent Japanese and Chinese studies have indicated a potential benefit of tacrolimus as a substitute for or in addition to CYC or MMF (dual or triple immunosuppression). Mizoribine is used in Japan exclusively.

Keywords: Cyclophosphamide; Ethnicity; Lupus nephritis; Mycophenolate mofetil; Outcome; Prevalence.

Publication types

  • Review