Background: Cyclosporine (CSA) has improved patients and organ-graft survival rates, but its chronic nephrotoxicity is still an issue. Although prolonged vasoconstriction could contribute to chronic CsA tubulointerstitial changes by producing chronic ischemia, this relationship has been difficult to demonstrate thus far, and cellular origin and mediators of these structural alterations remain ill-defined.
Methods: As a part of a clinical trial in kidney transplant recipients on triple immunosuppressive therapy (CsA, azathioprine and steroid), which includes renal biopsy as "per protocol," 22 patients enrolled between 12 and 24 months posttransplantation underwent renal hemodynamic evaluation by measuring glomerular filtration rate and renal plasma flow by the plasma clearance of unlabeled iohexol and the renal clearance of para-aminohippuric acid, respectively. In parallel, the CsA pharmacokinetic profile was also determined. A week later, a protocol biopsy of kidney graft was performed. Light microscopy examination and localization of endothelin-1, RANTES, monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 gene expression by in situ hybridization in the graft specimens were evaluated and related to the pattern of histologic lesions.
Results: Ten out of 22 kidney transplant recipients who underwent the protocol biopsy had CsA nephrotoxicity, eight had chronic rejection, and four had no lesions at histological examination. The total daily exposure to CsA was higher in patients with CsA nephrotoxicity than in those with chronic rejection or no lesions at biopsy. Renal function was preserved in the CsA toxicity group as compared with the chronic rejection group, despite some degree of renal hypoperfusion. Tubular atrophy and striped interstitial fibrosis were found in all patients with light microscopical evidence of CsA nephrotoxicity, whereas glomerular and arteriolar lesions were less frequent. Intense staining for endothelin-1, RANTES, and monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 mRNAs selectively localized at tubular epithelial cells was found in biopsies taken from patients with CsA nephrotoxicity, but not in the chronic graft rejection group, whose tubuli had only minimal staining for RANTES mRNA on a few occasions.
Conclusion: Long-term CsA administration to kidney allograft recipients leads to tubulointerstitial injury independently of its vascular effect. The possible contribution to the development of interstitial fibrosis of inflammatory and growth factors released by tubular cells in which CsA accumulates is proposed.