Adverse outcomes of tacrolimus withdrawal in immune-quiescent kidney transplant recipients
Concerns about adverse effects of calcineurin inhibitors (CNIs) have prompted development of protocols that minimize their use. Whereas previous CNI withdrawal trials in heterogeneous cohorts showed unacceptable rates of acute rejection (AR), we hypothesized that we could identify individuals capable of tolerating CNI withdrawal by targeting immunologically quiescent kidney transplant recipients. The Clinical Trials in Organ Transplantation-09 Trial was a randomized, prospective study of nonsensitized primary recipients of living donor kidney transplants. Subjects received rabbit antithymocyte globulin, tacrolimus, mycophenolate mofetil, and prednisone. Six months post-transplantation, subjects without de novo donor-specific antibodies (DSAs), AR, or inflammation at protocol biopsy were randomized to wean off or remain on tacrolimus. The intended primary end point was the change in interstitial fibrosis/tubular atrophy score between implantation and 24-month protocol biopsies. Serially collected urine CXCL9 ELISA results were correlated with outcomes. The study was terminated prematurely because of unacceptable rates of AR (4 of 14) and/or de novo DSAs (5 of 14) in the tacrolimus withdrawal arm. Positive urinary CXCL9 predated clinical detection of AR by a median of 15 days. Analyses showed that >16 HLA-DQ epitope mismatches and pretransplant, peripheral blood, donor-reactive IFN-γ ELISPOT assay results correlated with development of DSAs and/or AR on tacrolimus withdrawal. Although data indicate that urinary CXCL9 monitoring, epitope mismatches, and ELISPOT assays are potentially informative, complete CNI withdrawal must be strongly discouraged in kidney transplant recipients who are receiving standard-of-care immunosuppression, including those who are deemed to be immunologically quiescent on the basis of current clinical and laboratory criteria.