Background: We have previously reported a 10% incidence of posttransplant lymphoproliferative disease (PTLD) in pediatric patients receiving first liver grafts and primarily immunosuppressed with tacrolimus. To decrease the incidence of PTLD, we developed a protocol utilizing preemptive intravenous ganciclovir in high-risk recipients (i.e., donor (D)+, recipient (R)-), combined with serial monitoring of peripheral blood for Epstein Barr virus (EBV) by polymerase chain reaction (PCR).
Methods: Consecutive pediatric recipients of a first liver graft were immunosuppressed with oral tacrolimus (both induction and maintenance), and low-dose prednisone. EBV serologies were obtained at the time of orthotopic liver transplant in recipients and donors. Recipients were divided into groups: group 1, high-risk (D+R-), and group 2, low-risk (D+R+; D-R-; D-R+). In group 1 (high-risk), all patients received a minimum of 100 days of intravenous ganciclovir (6-10 mg/kg/day), while, in group 2 (low-risk), patients received intravenous ganciclovir during their initial hospitalization and then were converted to oral acyclovir (40 mg/kg/day) at discharge. Semiquantitative EBV-PCR determinations were made at 1-2-month intervals. In both groups, patients with an increasing viral copy number by EBV-PCR had tacrolimus levels decreased to 2-5 ng/ml. Tacrolimus was stopped, and intravenous ganciclovir reinstituted for PTLD. A positive EBV-PCR with symptoms, but negative histology, was defined as EBV disease; PTLD was defined as histologic evidence of polyclonal or monoclonal B cell proliferation.
Results: Forty children who had survived greater than 2 months were enrolled. There were 18 children in group 1 (high-risk; mean age of 14+/-15 months and mean follow-up time of 243+/-149 days) and 22 children in group 2 (low-risk; mean age of 64+/-65 months and follow-up time of 275+/-130 days). In group 1 (high-risk), there was no PTLD and one case of EBV disease (mononucleosis-like syndrome), which resolved. In group 2 (low-risk), there were two cases of PTLD; both resolved when tacrolimus was stopped. Both children were 8 months old at time of transplant. Neither received OKT3, and they had one and two episodes of steroid-sensitive rejection, respectively. One child had EBV disease (mild hepatitis), which resolved.
Conclusions: Since instituting this protocol, the overall incidence of PTLD has fallen from 10% to 5% for children receiving primary tacrolimus therapy after OLT. No high-risk pediatric liver recipient treated preemptively with intravenous ganciclovir developed PTLD. Both children with PTLD were less than 1 year at OLT and considered low-risk. However, their positive EBV antibody titers may have been maternal in origin and not have offered long-term protection. Serial monitoring of EBV-PCR after pediatric OLT is recommended to decrease the risk of PTLD by allowing early detection of EBV infection, which is then managed by decreasing immunosuppression and continuing intravenous ganciclovir.