Experience with leflunomide as treatment and as secondary prophylaxis for cytomegalovirus infection in lung transplant recipients: A case series and review of the literature

Clin Transplant. 2018 Feb;32(2). doi: 10.1111/ctr.13176. Epub 2017 Dec 26.


Background: Data concerning the use of leflunomide-a drug approved for rheumatoid arthritis with in vitro anticytomegalovirus (CMV) activity-in lung transplant (LT) recipients are scarce.

Aims: To report the use of leflunomide in LT recipients diagnosed with CMV infection/disease.

Material and methods: We performed a single-center retrospective study including LT recipients who received leflunomide for CMV infection or as secondary prophylaxis after viremia clearance. We also conducted a full systematic PubMed search until June 30, 2017.

Results: We identified 5 LT recipients in our center plus 7 patients reported in the literature. All patients had previously received ganciclovir (GCV) and foscarnet (FOS), with drug-induced adverse effects described in 6 recipients (50%). Antiviral resistance mutations were observed in 8 patients (66.7%). Leflunomide was prescribed for CMV infection in 9 of 12 patients (75%) and as secondary prophylaxis in 3 patients (25%). Initial decrease of CMV viremia after starting leflunomide was observed in 7 of 9 recipients (77.7%), although this response was only transient in 2 patients. Long-term suppression of CMV viremia was reported in 7 of 12 patients (58.3%). In 3 recipients (25%), leflunomide was discontinued due to adverse effects.

Discussion: Our study has some limitations, such as the small number of patients included, its retrospective nature, and absence of leflunomide drug monitoring in serum. Notwithstanding, in our experience, leflunomide proved to be particularly effective as an anti-CMV secondary prophylaxis treatment and for clearing low-grade viremia. Moreover, leflunomide combined with a short course of GCV or intravitreal FOS also proved to be very effective in some patients.

Conclusion: Leflunomide, alone or in combination, could be an effective treatment in selected LT recipients with GCV-resistant CMV infection and as secondary prophylaxis. Further studies are necessary.

Keywords: cytomegalovirus; ganciclovir-resistant cytomegalovirus; immunosuppression; leflunomide; lung transplantation.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cytomegalovirus / drug effects*
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / etiology
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / prevention & control*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Leflunomide / therapeutic use*
  • Lung Transplantation / adverse effects*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prognosis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Secondary Prevention
  • Young Adult


  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Leflunomide