Tacrolimus. An update of its pharmacology and clinical efficacy in the management of organ transplantation

Drugs. 1997 Dec;54(6):925-75. doi: 10.2165/00003495-199754060-00009.


Tacrolimus (FK 506) has been evaluated as immunosuppressive therapy in patients with a variety of solid organ and other transplants. Extensive data have now confirmed its efficacy as primary or rescue therapy in renal and hepatic transplantation. In prospective and historically controlled studies of primary therapy, tacrolimus generally demonstrated greater efficacy than the conventional formulation of cyclosporin for preventing episodes of acute rejection and allowed reduction of corticosteroid use. Chronic rejection rates were also significantly lower with tacrolimus in a large randomised liver transplantation trial. However, patient and graft survival rates were similar in both treatment groups (although numerically larger in adults with liver transplants). In children, rejection rates and corticosteroid requirements were usually lower with tacrolimus and patient and graft survival were generally similar with the 2 immunosuppressants. The finding of reduced corticosteroid requirements with tacrolimus may be of particular benefit in prepubertal children, who are still growing. A small amount of evidence has also accumulated regarding the use of tacrolimus as primary therapy in patients who have undergone bone marrow or heart and/or lung transplantation. Data are not conclusive, particularly in children, but tacrolimus appears to be useful for treating patients who have undergone these organ transplantations and may be associated with a lower incidence of obliterative bronchiolitis than cyclosporin in the latter group. Potential efficacy has also been shown in a limited number of patients with pancreas or pancreas-kidney, pancreatic islet and intestinal or multivisceral transplants, and in children who have undergone heart or heart-lung transplantation. Tacrolimus also has a use as rescue therapy in bone marrow, heart, lung and pancreatic transplantation, but data are currently insufficient for conclusions to be made. However, these results support the need for further study in these populations. Adverse effects occurring during tacrolimus therapy are generally of the type common to all immunosuppressive regimens. However, diabetes mellitus, neurotoxicity and nephrotoxicity are more common in tacrolimus than cyclosporin recipients. Hyperlipidaemia, hypertension, hirsutism and gingival hyperplasia are more common with cyclosporin. In 2 large multicentre clinical trials (US liver and European renal), tacrolimus was discontinued more frequently during the first year because of adverse events. However, the tolerability of tacrolimus appears related to dosage, improving as the dose is reduced. Tacrolimus should be considered an effective primary immunosuppressant in renal and hepatic transplantation. The drug is also a useful agent for rescue therapy in patients experiencing rejection or poor tolerability to cyclosporin. Thus, tacrolimus provides the clinician with an effective option for patients requiring immunosuppression and, with a different tolerability and efficacy profile to cyclosporin, it will better allow the tailoring of therapy to meet the needs of individual patients.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Graft vs Host Disease / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / pharmacology*
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Organ Transplantation*
  • Tacrolimus / pharmacokinetics
  • Tacrolimus / pharmacology*
  • Tacrolimus / therapeutic use*


  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Tacrolimus