Deflazacort and prednisone/prednisolone are the current standard of care for patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) based on evidence that they improve muscle strength, improve timed motor function, delay loss of ambulation, improve pulmonary function, reduce the need for scoliosis surgery, delay onset of cardiomyopathy, and increase survival. Both have been used off-label for many years (choice dependent on patient preference, cost, and geographic location) before FDA approval of deflazacort for DMD in 2017. In this review, we compare deflazacort and prednisone/prednisolone in terms of their key pharmacological features, relative efficacy, and safety profiles in patients with DMD. Differentiating features include lipid solubility, pharmacokinetics, changes in gene expression profiles, affinity for the mineralocorticoid receptor, and impact on glucose metabolism. Evidence from randomized clinical trials, prospective studies, meta-analyses, and post-hoc analyses suggests that patients receiving deflazacort experience similar or slower rates of functional decline compared with those receiving prednisone/prednisolone. Regarding side effects, weight gain and behavior side effects appear to be greater with prednisone/prednisolone than with deflazacort, whereas bone health, growth parameters, and cataracts appear worse with deflazacort.
Keywords: Deflazacort; duchenne muscular dystrophy; glucocorticoids; prednisolone; prednisone.