Background: Our goal in clinical renal transplantation is to find immunosuppressive procedures that not only promote long-term patient and graft survival but also improve the overall well-being of the patients.
Methods: In a retrospective consecutive clinical study with historical controls, 68 patients were discharged from our center with functioning grafts between September 1995 and December 1997. Patients received steroid-free immunosuppression using an initial 10-day antithymocyte globulin induction and maintenance therapy with cyclosporine and mycophenolate mofetil (MMF). No steroids were given.
Results: After an observation for up to 2.5 years (median 488 days, range 127 to 945 days), 66 patients (one died from sepsis after 6 months, and one died of peritonitis after returning to dialysis) were alive and well. Sixty-four grafts were functioning well, hemolytic uremic syndrome recurred in one graft, one graft had to be removed for noncompliance, and two patients returned to dialysis after chronic rejection-one after 8 months (the patient who died in peritoneal dialysis) and one (a third graft in an antibody-positive patient) 16 months after transplantation. We observed only 10 acute rejections (15%), a rate significantly lower (P=0.0006) than the 71 acute rejections observed in 190 previous consecutive transplants (37.4%) treated without MMF but otherwise after exactly the same protocol. In further comparison, the MMF-treated group also showed an equivalent (P=NS) rate of cytomegalovirus infections and a lower rate (P<0.00005) of Epstein-Barr virus infections. Graft function was excellent (median serum creatinine below 200 micromol/L at 1 year), and no malignancies were observed in the MMF-treated patients. Side effects were mainly leukopenia and two gastrointestinal disturbances.
Conclusions: Our first-line, steroid-free immunosuppressive protocol allows initial graft function, provides a safe level of long-term graft survival and function with a very low rejection rate, gives an acceptable rate of side effects, and possesses the potential for lowering the incidence of chronic rejection over the long-term. Compared with protocols that discontinue steroids after the initial posttransplant period, a steroid-free protocol avoids the increased risk of infection and body disfigurement in the early posttransplant period. It also avoids the long-term risks of steroid use and the increased risks of rejection when the steroids are withdrawn.