Background: Primary membranous nephropathy (PMN) is a common cause of nephrotic syndrome in adults. Without treatment, approximately 30% of patients will experience spontaneous remission and one third will have persistent proteinuria. Approximately one-third of patients progress toward end-stage kidney disease (ESKD) within 10 years. Immunosuppressive treatment aims to protect kidney function and is recommended for patients who do not show improvement of proteinuria by supportive therapy, and for patients with severe nephrotic syndrome at presentation due to the high risk of developing ESKD. The efficacy and safety of different immunosuppressive regimens are unclear. This is an update of a Cochrane review, first published in 2004 and updated in 2013.
Objectives: The aim was to evaluate the safety and efficacy of different immunosuppressive treatments for adult patients with PMN and nephrotic syndrome.
Search methods: We searched the Cochrane Kidney and Transplant Register of Studies up to 1 April 2021 with support from the Cochrane Kidney and Transplant Information Specialist using search terms relevant to this review. Studies in the Register were identified through searches of CENTRAL, MEDLINE, and EMBASE, conference proceedings, the International Clinical Trials Register (ICTRP) Search Portal and ClinicalTrials.gov.
Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) investigating effects of immunosuppression in adults with PMN and nephrotic syndrome were included.
Data collection and analysis: Study selection, data extraction, quality assessment, and data synthesis were performed using Cochrane-recommended methods. Summary estimates of effect were obtained using a random-effects model, and results were expressed as risk ratios (RR) and their 95% confidence intervals (CI) for dichotomous outcomes, and mean difference (MD) and 95% CI for continuous outcomes. Confidence in the evidence was assessed using the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) approach.
Main results: Sixty-five studies (3807 patients) were included. Most studies exhibited a high risk of bias for the domains, blinding of study personnel, participants and outcome assessors, and most studies were judged unclear for randomisation sequence generation and allocation concealment. Immunosuppressive treatment versus placebo/no treatment/non-immunosuppressive treatment In moderate certainty evidence, immunosuppressive treatment probably makes little or no difference to death, probably reduces the overall risk of ESKD (16 studies, 944 participants: RR 0.59, 95% CI 0.35 to 0.99; I² = 22%), probably increases total remission (complete and partial) (6 studies, 879 participants: RR 1.44, 95% CI 1.05 to 1.97; I² = 73%) and complete remission (16 studies, 879 participants: RR 1.70, 95% CI 1.05 to 2.75; I² = 43%), and probably decreases the number with doubling of serum creatinine (SCr) (9 studies, 447 participants: RR 0.46, 95% CI 0.26 to 0.80; I² = 21%). However, immunosuppressive treatment may increase the number of patients relapsing after complete or partial remission (3 studies, 148 participants): RR 1.73, 95% CI 1.05 to 2.86; I² = 0%) and may lead to a greater number experiencing temporary or permanent discontinuation/hospitalisation due to adverse events (18 studies, 927 participants: RR 5.33, 95% CI 2.19 to 12.98; I² = 0%). Immunosuppressive treatment has uncertain effects on infection and malignancy. Oral alkylating agents with or without steroids versus placebo/no treatment/steroids Oral alkylating agents with or without steroids had uncertain effects on death but may reduce the overall risk of ESKD (9 studies, 537 participants: RR 0.42, 95% CI 0.24 to 0.74; I² = 0%; low certainty evidence). Total (9 studies, 468 participants: RR 1.37, 95% CI 1.04 to 1.82; I² = 70%) and complete remission (8 studies, 432 participants: RR 2.12, 95% CI 1.33 to 3.38; I² = 37%) may increase, but had uncertain effects on the number of patients relapsing, and decreasing the number with doubling of SCr. Alkylating agents may be associated with a higher rate of adverse events leading to discontinuation or hospitalisation (8 studies 439 participants: RR 6.82, 95% CI 2.24 to 20.71; I² = 0%). Oral alkylating agents with or without steroids had uncertain effects on infection and malignancy. Calcineurin inhibitors (CNI) with or without steroids versus placebo/no treatment/supportive therapy/steroids We are uncertain whether CNI with or without steroids increased or decreased the risk of death or ESKD, increased or decreased total or complete remission, or reduced relapse after complete or partial remission (low to very low certainty evidence). CNI also had uncertain effects on decreasing the number with a doubling of SCr, temporary or permanent discontinuation or hospitalisation due to adverse events, infection, or malignancy. Calcineurin inhibitors (CNI) with or without steroids versus alkylating agents with or without steroids We are uncertain whether CNI with or without steroids increases or decreases the risk of death or ESKD. CNI with or without steroids may make little or no difference to total remission (10 studies, 538 participants: RR 1.01, 95% CI 0.89 to 1.15; I² = 53%; moderate certainty evidence) or complete remission (10 studies, 538 participants: RR 1.15, 95% CI 0.84 to 1.56; I² = 56%; low certainty evidence). CNI with or without steroids may increase relapse after complete or partial remission. CNI with or without steroids had uncertain effects on SCr increase, adverse events, infection, and malignancy. Other immunosuppressive treatments Other interventions included azathioprine, mizoribine, adrenocorticotropic hormone, traditional Chinese medicines, and monoclonal antibodies such as rituximab. There were insufficient data to draw conclusions on these treatments.
Authors' conclusions: This updated review strengthened the evidence that immunosuppressive therapy is probably superior to non-immunosuppressive therapy in inducing remission and reducing the number of patients that progress to ESKD. However, these benefits need to be balanced against the side effects of immunosuppressive drugs. The number of included studies with high-quality design was relatively small and most studies did not have adequate follow-up. Clinicians should inform their patients of the lack of high-quality evidence. An alkylating agent (cyclophosphamide or chlorambucil) combined with a corticosteroid regimen had short- and long-term benefits, but this was associated with a higher rate of adverse events. CNI (tacrolimus and cyclosporin) showed equivalency with alkylating agents however, the certainty of this evidence remains low. Novel immunosuppressive treatments with the biologic rituximab or use of adrenocorticotropic hormone require further investigation and validation in large and high-quality RCTs.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00404833 NCT00362531 NCT01282073 NCT01508468 NCT00805753 NCT00135954 NCT01180036 NCT00843856 NCT01762852 NCT01152060 NCT00302523 NCT00518219 NCT01093157 NCT01386554 NCT01845688 NCT03170323 NCT02173106 NCT03018535 NCT01955187.
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