International Journal of Hematology

, Volume 101, Issue 5, pp 467–486 | Cite as

Prophylactic and therapeutic treatment of graft-versus-host disease in Japan

Progress in Hematology The latest development in GVHD management

Abstract

Allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation in Japan is very different from that in Western countries in terms of the homogeneous genetic background, the preference for bone marrow to peripheral blood stem cells, use of a single unit in cord blood transplantation, and frequent use of non-myeloablative preconditioning due to a large number of elderly patients. Therefore, conclusions obtained from well-designed prospective and/or comparative studies of treatment of graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) performed in the United States or Europe may not fit Japanese transplant patients. This article reviews the studies of prophylactic and therapeutic treatment of acute and chronic GVHD that have been conducted in Japan. A randomized study demonstrated a lower incidence of acute GVHD in tacrolimus-based prophylaxis than in cyclosporine A-based prophylaxis. Retrospective and non-randomized prospective studies suggest that cyclosporine A-based and tacrolimus-based GVHD prophylaxis regimens are well researched and nearly optimized for Japanese patients, including infusion methods and target blood concentration. However, most other studies were performed in a single institute including a small number of patients, resulting in biased conclusions. There is no conclusive report on steroid-refractory acute and chronic GVHD. This review provides a baseline for starting prospective studies to create new evidence for GVHD treatment from Japan.

Keywords

Graft-versus-host disease Prophylaxis Therapy Calcineurin inhibitor Steroid 

Introduction

Despite prophylaxis with immunosuppressive agents, many patients suffer from graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) after allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT). There has been considerable research on prophylactic and therapeutic treatment of GVHD, but optimization has not been accomplished. In particular, HSCT is very different in Japan than in Western countries, in that, in Japan: most transplant physicians prefer bone marrow transplantation (BMT) to peripheral blood stem cell transplantation (PBSCT), especially in unrelated donor transplantation; cord blood transplantation (CBT) with a single cord unit is performed with the greatest number in the world; non-myeloablative preconditioning is frequently used because of a large number of elderly patients; and the genetic background is homogeneous. In fact, large-scale international studies have demonstrated a significantly lower incidence and severity of acute GVHD after BMT or PBSCT in Japanese patient–donor pairs than in Caucasian pairs [1, 2]. Non-comparable large studies suggested a lower incidence of chronic GVHD in the Japanese population than in the Caucasian population [3, 4, 5], although this is controversial [1]. Therefore, conclusions obtained from well-designed prospective and/or comparative studies performed in the United States or Europe may not apply to Japanese HSCT patients.

Contrary to my expectations, the search of the PubMed database using the terms “GVHD”, “prophylaxis” or “treatment”, and “Japan”, excluding “review”, identified more than 30 reports a year in recent years. This article reviews the studies on the prophylaxis and treatment of acute and chronic GVHD that have been conducted in Japan. Articles regarding the pathogenesis of GVHD, the effects of human leukocyte antigen (HLA) and non-HLA gene polymorphisms on GVHD, and the prediction of GVHD by biomarkers are excluded, because excellent review articles have been published in this journal [6, 7, 8, 9]. Valuable research outcomes have been reported from Japan as well as other countries.

GVHD prophylaxis regimens for BMT and PBSCT

Cyclosporine A (CsA)-based regimens

The standard regimen for GVHD prophylaxis in BMT from HLA-matched sibling donors is a combination of CsA and short-term methotrexate (sMTX), which was established in 1986 [10, 11].

Studies on CsA-based regimens reported from Japan are summarized in Table 1. Morishima et al. [12] reported a lower incidence of acute GVHD with CsA and sMTX than with CsA alone or MTX alone in Japanese leukemia patients after BMT from HLA-matched sibling donors in 1989. They subsequently confirmed the efficacy of a combination of CsA and sMTX in unrelated donor BMT [13]. Kanda et al. [14] analyzed the data of the Japan Society for Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation (JSHCT) and reported a cumulative incidence of grade II–IV acute GVHD of 24 % in 1843 patients after HLA-matched sibling donor BMT with CsA and sMTX. A retrospective study of patients after HLA-matched sibling BMT suggested no benefit of the combination of CsA and methylprednisolone (mPSL) instead of CsA and sMTX [15].
Table 1

Summary of studies on GVHD prophylaxis regimens mainly for BMT and PBSCT in Japan

References

Regimen

No. of patients

Design

Donor

Stem cell source

Grade II–IV acute GVHD

Grade III–IV acute GVHD

Chronic GVHD

Incidence (%)

HR or RR

Incidence (%)

HR or RR

Incidence (%)

HR or RR

CsA-based

 Morishima [12]

Twice-daily CsA + sMTX

39

Retro

MSD

BM

5

1

0

 

43

 

Twice-daily CsA

37

   

27

5.6

0

 

45

 

MTX

44

   

30

6.18

16

 

50

 

 Gondo [15]

CsA + sMTX

14

Retro

MSD

BM

0

 

0

 

61

 

CsA + mPSL

11

   

45

 

36

 

39

 

 Morishima [13]

CsA + sMTX

51a

Retro

MUD, mmUD

BM

32

 

17

 

72

 

 Kanda [14]

CsA + sMTX

1843

Retro

MSD

BM

24

 

7

 

47

 

 Ogawa [16]

Continuous CsA + sMTX

71

Retro

MRD, MUD, mmRD, mmUD

BM, PB

56

2.59 (1.46–4.60)

    

Twice-daily CsA + sMTX

58

   

27

1

    

 Kohno [21]

Continuous CsA (1.5)b + sMTX

21

Phase 2

MSD

BM

48

   

51

 

Continuous CsA (3.0)b + sMTX

22

Retro

  

23

   

54

 

 Kanda [18]

Continuous CsA + sMTX

171

Retro

MSD

BM, PB

30

 

10

   

 Nawa [24]

Once-daily CsA + sMTX

19

Retro

MUD

BM

37

 

0

   

 Izumi [22]

Twice-daily CsA + sMTX

73

Retro

MRD, MUD, mmRD, mmUD

BM

25

     

 Oshima [19]

Continuous CsA (500)c + sMTX

33

Pro

MRD, MUD, mmRD, mmUD

BM, PB

27

0.43 (0.19–0.96)

3

 

47

 

Continuous CsA (300)c + sMTX

33

Retro

  

52

1

18

 

73

 

 Machishima [20]

Continuous CsA (500)c + sMTX

69

Retro

MRD, MUD, mmRD, mmUD

BM, PB

35

0.81 (0.41–1.59)

10

0.28 (0.09–0.83)

  

Continuous CsA (300)c + sMTX

29

   

41

1

24

1

  

 Umeda [17]

Continuous CsA ± Other

34

Retro

MRD, MUD, mmRD, mmUD

BM, PB, CB

27

 

3

 

32

 

Twice-daily CsA ± Other

36

   

26

 

0

 

17

 

Tac-based

 Hiraoka [28]

Tac ± other

66

Phase 3

MSD, MUD, mmRD

BM

18

 

10

 

47

 

CsA ± other

65

   

48

 

21

 

48

 

 Ogawa [35]

Tac + sMTX + mPSL

20

Pilot

MUD, mmUD

BM

0

 

0

 

67f

 

 Yanada [30]

Tac ± other

51

Retro

MSD

BM, PB

33

Not significant

 

Not significant

12

1

CsA ± other

1884

   

38

   

33

3.69 (1.18–11.53)

Tac ± other

191

Retro

MUD, mmUD

BM

36

1

 

1

38

Not significant

CsA ± other

586

   

58

2.20 (1.60–3.04)

 

2.10 (1.32–3.34)

35

 

 Nishida [29]

Tac + sMTX

55

Phase 2

mmUD

BM

  

24

 

72

 

 Yagasaki [36]

Tac ± other

47

Retro

MUD, mmUD

BM

29

   

13

 

CsA ± other

47

   

33

   

36

 

 Watanabe [32]

Tac (>7)d ± other

51

Retro

MRD, MUD, mmRD, mmUD

BM, PB, CB

34

1

17

   

Tac (≤7)d ± other

46

   

66

3.47 (1.13–4.15)

49

   

 Mori [33]

Tac + sMTX

60

Retro

MUD

BM

52

 

18

   

 Nasu [37]

Tac ± sMTX

35

Retro

MRD, MUD, mmRD, mmUD

BM, PB, CB

34

 

14

 

28f

 

CsA ± sMTX

76

   

33

 

14

 

24f

 

MTX alone

 Koga [43]

MTX

30

Retro

MSD

BM

30

   

19

 

 Watanabe [44]

MTX

94

Retro

MSD

BM

20

 

11

 

32

 

MMF

 Mizumoto [49]

Tac + sMTX + MMF

21

Retro

MUD, mmUD

BM

33

 

5

 

55

 

 Nishikawa [50]

CsA or Tac + MMF (d30)e

25

Retro

MRD, MUD, mmRD, mmUD

BM, PB, CB

42

     

CsA or Tac + MMF (d50–94)e

16

   

13

     

 Iida [52]

MMF ± other

157

Retro

MRD, mmRD

BM, PB

30

 

20

 

45

 

 Wakahashi [51]

Tac + MMF

36

Retro

MUD, mmUD

BM, CB

29

   

13

 

 Iida [53]

MMF ± other

440

Retro

MUD, mmUD

BM, PB, CB

38

 

14

 

28

 

In vivo purge

 Azuma [59]

ATG-containing conditioning + CsA + sMTX

10

Retro

MSD

BM

0

 

0

 

10

 

 Kojima [60]

ATG-containing conditioning + CsA or Tac + sMTX

15

Retro

MUD, mmUD

BM

33

 

13

 

13

 

 Kojima [61]

ATG-containing conditioning

82

Retro

MUD, mmUD

BM

29

 

20

1

30

 

Non-ATG-containing conditioning

72

      

4.21 (1.36–13.1)

  

 Nakai [64]

ATG-containing RIC + CsA

20

Retro

MRD

PB

10

0.16

  

30

 

Non-ATG-containing RIC + CsA

19

   

63

1

  

63

 

Non-ATG-containing MAC + CsA + sMTX

33

   

33

   

64

 

 Teshima [65]

ATG-containing RIC

49

Retro

MRD, mmRD

BM, PB

 

0.55 (0.29–1.02)

   

0.42 (0.20–0.85)

Non-ATG-containing RIC

292

    

1

   

1

 Tanosaki [66]

ATG-containing RIC

15

Phase 1

MSD

PB

60

 

33

 

46

 

Non-ATG-containing RIC

14

Phase 1

MSD

PB

57

 

21

 

83

 

 Hatanaka [68]

ATG-containing conditioning

86

Retro

MUD, mmUD

BM

20

 

8

 

19

 

 Fuji [67]

ATG-containing RIC

33

Retro

MUD, mmUD

BM

15

0.17 (0.06–0.44)

0

 

33

0.45 (0.23–0.88)

Non-ATG-containing RIC with TBI 2 Gy

40

   

61

1

8

 

57

1

Non-ATG-containing RIC with TBI 4 Gy

30

   

50

 

30

 

50

 

 Kanda [63]

Alemtuzumab-containing RIC + CsA + sMTX

15

Pro

MRD, MUD, mmRD, mmUD

PB

0

 

0

 

13

 

Ex vivo purge

 Sao [69]

CD6+ cells negative selection

10

Phase 1/2

mmRD, mmUD

BM

11

 

0

 

14

 

Blank represents no data

GVHD graft-versus-host disease, HR hazard ratio, RR relative risk, CsA cyclosporine A, Tac tacrolimus, sMTX short-term methotrexate, MTX methotrexate, MMF mycophenolate mofetil, mPSL methylprednisolone, ATG antithymocyte globulin, RIC reduced intensity conditioning, MAC myeloablative conditioning, Retro retrospective study, Pro prospective study, MSD HLA-matched sibling donor, MUD HLA-matched unrelated donor, mmUD HLA-mismatched unrelated donor, MRD HLA-matched related donor, mmRD HLA-mismatched related donor, BM bone marrow, PB peripheral blood stem cells, CB cord blood

aOne patient received Tac + sMTX

bCsA was given at an initial dosage of 1.5 mg/kg (1.5 group) or 3.0 mg/kg (3.0 group) per day

cThe dose of CsA was adjusted to maintain the blood CsA concentration at 450–550 ng/mL (500 group) or 150–300 ng/mL (300 group) during the first 3 weeks after transplantation

dThe dose of Tac was adjusted to maintain the blood Tac concentration at >7 ng/mL (>7 group) or ≤7 ng/mL (≤7 group) during the first 2 weeks after transplantation

eMMF was stopped at day 30 (d30 group) or day 50–94 (median day 65) (d50–94 group)

fIncidence of extensive chronic GVHD

Ogawa et al. [16] retrospectively compared the incidences of acute GVHD in adult patients between continuous infusion (CI) and twice-daily infusion (TDI) of CsA. The incidence of grade II–IV acute GVHD was significantly higher in the CI group than in the TDI group, and multivariate analysis identified CI as a risk factor for grade II–IV acute GVHD. Another retrospective comparative study in pediatric patients conducted by Umeda et al. [17] showed a significantly higher incidence of severe hypertension in the CI group than in the TDI group, with no difference in the incidences of acute GVHD between the two groups.

Based on the observation that the blood concentration of continuously infused CsA during the third week after transplantation affected the incidence of grade II–IV acute GVHD [18], Kanda and his colleagues [19, 20] evaluated the safety and efficacy of CI of CsA with a high target blood concentration (450–550 ng/mL). They concluded that CI of CsA at 450–550 ng/mL was feasible and effective prophylaxis for acute GVHD.

In contrast, to test the hypothesis that a reduction in the CsA dosage would reduce the risk of relapse and toxicity of immunosuppressive agents, Kohno et al. [21] conducted a prospective phase 2 study to evaluate low-dose (1.5 mg/kg/day) continuous CsA with sMTX for GVHD prophylaxis in HLA-matched sibling donor BMT. Grade II–III acute GVHD was marginally more common (P = 0.065) in the low-dose CsA group than in the historical control CsA group (3.0 mg/kg/day), but this did not increase mortality.

In TDI of CsA, the blood concentration of CsA at 3 or 5 h after the start of infusion, as well as trough concentration, was suggested to be a good marker for the development of grade II–IV acute GVHD [22, 23]. The feasibility of once-daily 4-h infusion of CsA was retrospectively studied in HLA-matched unrelated donor BMT [24]. Administration of cyclophosphamide as pretransplant conditioning may affect the blood concentration of CsA for 2 weeks after transplantation [25].

Tacrolimus (Tac)-based regimens

Two phase 3, randomized, multicenter studies from the United States demonstrated a reduced incidence of acute GVHD among patients receiving Tac and sMTX relative to patients receiving CsA and sMTX, although survival was not different [26, 27]. Currently, a combination of Tac and sMTX is frequently used, particularly in transplantation from unrelated donor BMT and PBSCT.

Studies for Tac-based regimens performed in Japan are summarized in Table 1. Hiraoka et al. [28] conducted a phase 3 study comparing Tac with CsA as GVHD prophylaxis in BMT from related and unrelated donors. The cumulative incidence of grade II–IV acute GVHD was significantly lower in the Tac-based regimen than in the CsA-based regimen, but there was no difference in survival rates between the two groups, presumably due to the lack of a graft-versus-leukemia effect. The incidence of chronic GVHD was similar in the two groups.

Nishida et al. [29] conducted a phase 2 study to evaluate Tac and sMTX for GVHD prophylaxis in patients receiving BMT from an HLA-A, B, or DRB1 genotypically mismatched unrelated donor. The results suggested the efficacy of the Tac and sMTX regimen in HLA genotypically mismatched unrelated donor BMT.

Yanada et al. [30] performed a large-scale retrospective study to compare Tac-based and CsA-based regimens. The use of Tac significantly reduced the risk of grade II–IV and III–IV acute GVHD in unrelated donor BMT, but not in HLA-matched sibling BMT or PBSCT. On the other hand, Tac significantly reduced the risk of chronic GVHD in sibling donor BMT/PBSCT, but not in unrelated donor BMT. Finally, Tac instead of CsA was beneficial for the survival of patients receiving unrelated donor BMT, but not sibling donor BMT/PBSCT.

In a retrospective study of a large number of adult patients, Tac-based prophylaxis was identified as a favorable factor for acute GVHD and, interestingly, total body irradiation in pretransplant conditioning was identified as a risk factor [31].

A retrospective study of pediatric patients suggested that blood concentrations of continuously infused Tac of >7 ng/mL were significantly associated with a lower incidence of acute GVHD and a higher survival rate compared with Tac of ≤7 ng/mL [32]. Another group reported that the mean blood concentration of Tac during the third week after transplantation was significantly associated with the grades of acute GVHD [33]. The conversion from intravenous to oral Tac should be performed under close medical supervision [34]. The addition of mPSL to Tac and sMTX strongly suppressed acute GVHD in unrelated donor BMT but not chronic GVHD [35]. It has been suggested that calcineurin inhibitors are involved in the development of intestinal thrombotic microangiopathy, a life-threatening complication after allogeneic transplantation, in humans and rats [38, 39, 40]. The blood concentration of Tac was not necessarily high in patients who developed Tac-related encephalopathy [41]. Genetic polymorphisms of cytochrome P450 may affect the serum concentration of calcineurin inhibitors in transplant patients [42].

MTX alone

Two retrospective studies suggested the feasibility of MTX alone as GVHD prophylaxis in pediatric patients who received BMT from HLA-matched sibling donors [43, 44] (Table 1). The efficacy of folic acid in preventing the toxicity of MTX is controversial [45, 46].

Mycophenolate mofetil (MMF)

Two prospective randomized studies from the United States concluded that MMF provided no advantage over MTX when used with CsA or Tac in terms of the reduction of acute or chronic GVHD and the increase in the survival rate [47, 48]. However, the use of MMF instead of MTX has the advantage of lower incidence and severity of oropharyngeal mucositis.

No prospective study of MMF has been done in Japan (Table 1). Three retrospective studies [49, 50, 51] suggested the safety and efficacy of MMF together with Tac or CsA as GVHD prophylaxis. Wakahashi et al. [51] reported that the blood concentration of MMF at 2 h after the start of infusion could be a surrogate marker of the area under the curve and helpful for predicting acute GVHD development. Nationwide studies conducted by Iida et al. [52, 53] found 157 patients after related donor transplantation and 440 patients after unrelated donor transplantation who had received MMF as GVHD prophylaxis, suggesting that MMF is now widely used in Japan.

In vivo purge

The benefit of anti-thymocyte globulin (ATG) for the prevention of acute and chronic GVHD has been proven in randomized studies [54, 55, 56, 57]. A meta-analysis of six randomized, controlled trials demonstrated that the incidences of grade II–IV and grade III–IV acute GVHD and extensive chronic GVHD were significantly lower in patients who received ATG [58]. However, this effect did not lead to a significant improvement of non-relapse mortality and overall survival. They concluded that careful consideration of the use of ATG based on the patient’s condition and the risk factors of the transplantation setting was required.

ATG-containing conditioning is often used in BMT or PBSCT for severe aplastic anemia (SAA) in Japan. Azuma et al. [59] retrospectively studied 10 pediatric patients with SAA after HLA-matched sibling BMT using preconditioning with Lymphoglobulin (Pasteur-Merieux, Lyon, France) 15 mg/kg for 4 days, followed by CsA and sMTX (Table 1). All patients achieved engraftment without acute GVHD. Only one patient developed limited chronic GVHD. Kojima et al. [60] retrospectively studied 15 pediatric patients with SAA after unrelated donor BMT using preconditioning with Thymoglobulin (Pasteur-Merieux) 2.5 mg/kg for 4 days, followed by CsA and sMTX. Subsequently, Kojima et al. [61] analyzed the results of 154 patients with SAA after unrelated donor BMT. Non-ATG-containing conditioning was a risk factor for a higher incidence of grade III–IV acute GVHD and lower overall survival. Terasako et al. [62] retrospectively compared the effects of Thymoglobulin and ATG-Fresenius (Fresenius Biotech, Munich, Germany) on immune recovery and cytomegalovirus infection in posttransplant patients with SAA and suggested that Thymoglobulin had a stronger immunosuppressive activity than ATG-Fresenius with a dose ratio of 1:2.5. Kanda et al. [63] evaluated the efficacy of in vivo T cell purge with alemtuzumab as in vivo T cell depletion in a prospective study of 15 patients with SAA.

For malignant diseases, one prospective and three retrospective comparative studies [64, 65, 66, 67] demonstrated a significantly or marginally lower incidence of acute and/or chronic GVHD in an ATG-containing regimen than in a non-ATG-containing regimen. However, all studies failed to show the advantage of the use of ATG with regard to overall survival. Interestingly, ATG was combined with reduced intensity conditioning (RIC) in all studies in Japan [64, 65, 66, 67]. Hatanaka et al. [68] conducted a national survey and found that, in most cases (92 %), ATG was combined with RIC.

Ex vivo purge

Sao et al. [69] performed a prospective study to assess the safety and efficacy of partial T cell depletion using anti-CD6 monoclonal antibody-conjugated magnetic beads in 10 leukemia patients who received BMT from HLA-mismatched related or unrelated donors. Studies for transplantation of purified CD34-positive cells are summarized in the “GVHD prophylaxis regimens for HLA-haploidentical donor transplantation” section.

GVHD prophylaxis regimens for CBT

Most institutions in the United States and Europe use the combination of CsA or Tac with MMF or steroid as GVHD prophylaxis for CBT [70, 71, 72, 73, 74]. Their strategy is characterized by the addition of ATG to pretransplant conditioning, but no comparative study has evaluated the merit of ATG administration prior to CBT. A recent comparison of GVHD after CBT in pediatric patients revealed no differences in the risks of acute GVHD between Japanese and Caucasian populations [5].

GVHD prophylaxis regimens used for CBT in Japan are summarized in Table 2. Takahashi and his colleagues [75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80] at the Institute of Medical Science, the University of Tokyo, reported promising results of CBT for adult patients with hematological malignancies using a combination of once-daily CsA and sMTX as GVHD prophylaxis. Incidences of grade II–IV acute GVHD, grade III–IV acute GVHD, and extensive chronic GVHD were 50–65, 6–41, and 18–34 %, respectively.
Table 2

Summary of GVHD prophylaxis regimens for CBT in Japan

References

Regimen

No. of patients

Design

Grade II–IV acute GVHD

Grade III–IV acute GVHD

Chronic GVHD

Incidence (%)

HR or RR

Incidence (%)

HR or RR

Incidence (%)

HR or RR

Takahashi [75]

Once-daily CsA + sMTX

68a

Retro

50

 

6

 

78

 

Ooi [76]

Once-daily CsA + sMTX

18b

Retro

65

 

6

 

83

 

Miyakoshi [81]

Continuous CsA

30

Retro

27

 

23

 

23

 

Kishi [82]

Continuous CsA

57

Retro

66

 

45

   

Takahashi [77]

Once-daily CsA + sMTX

100

Retro

52

 

7

 

74

 

Miyakoshi [83]

Tac

34

Retro

45

   

27

 

Mori [87]

Tac + sMTX

18

Retro

44

 

0

 

54

 

Narimatsu [89]

Tac or CsA + sMTX

40

Retro

17

0.55 (0.31–0.98)d

    

Tac or CsA

37c

 

28

1d

    

Uchida [84]

Tac

33

Retro

61

 

43

 

40

 

Continuous CsA

37

       

Ooi [78]

Once-daily CsA + sMTX

77

Retro

82

 

25

 

84

 

Yamada [88]

Tac + sMTX

25

Retro

40

 

5

 

68

 

Uchida [85]

Tac + MMF

29

Retro

67

 

41

 

15

 

Tac

29

 

50

 

40

 

36

 

Sato [80]

Once-daily CsA + sMTX

33

Retro

67

 

41

 

76

 

Kato [90]

Tac or CsA + sMTX

149

Retro

40

1

14

1

16

1

Tac or CsA

41

 

54

1.74 (1.06–2.83)

37

3.02 (1.55–5.91)

23

1.78 (0.83–3.82)

Tac or CsA + prednisolone

47

 

64

1.61 (1.03–2.50)

28

1.89 (0.93–3.83)

29

2.44 (1.24–4.82)

Blank represents no data

GVHD graft-versus-host disease, HR hazard ratio, RR relative risk, CsA cyclosporine A, sMTX short-term methotrexate, Tac tacrolimus, MMF mycophenolate mofetil, Retro retrospective study, Pro prospective study

aThree patients received once-daily CsA only

bTwo patients received once-daily CsA only

cTwo patients received Tac + methylprednisolone

dHazard ratios for posttransplant immune reactions including pre-engraftment immune reactions, engraftment syndrome, and grade II–IV acute GVHD

Miyakoshi et al. [81] at Toranomon Hospital reported the feasibility of CBT with RIC using CsA alone as GVHD prophylaxis for adult patients. They subsequently reported the merit of the use of Tac instead of CsA to suppress post-CBT immune reactions, including pre-engraftment immune reaction and acute GVHD [82, 83]. After demonstrating the feasibility of RIC CBT with CsA or Tac alone for patients aged 55 years and higher [84], Uchida et al. [85] added MMF to Tac as GVHD prophylaxis in RIC CBT for elderly patients. They reported a significantly higher engraftment rate (90 vs. 69 %) and a lower incidence of pre-engraftment immune reaction (16 vs. 52 %) in the Tac and MMF group, but the incidences of acute and chronic GVHD were comparable between the two groups. A certain plasma level of MMF may be necessary to effectively prevent acute GVHD after CBT [86].

Mori et al. [87] and Yamada et al. [88] retrospectively analyzed the feasibility of CBT with a combination of Tac and sMTX for adult patients. Narimatsu et al. [89] retrospectively studied the effect of the addition of sMTX to a calcineurin inhibitor on the outcome of post-CBT patients. sMTX significantly decreased the incidence of post-CBT immune reactions, including pre-engraftment immune reaction, engraftment syndrome, and grade II–IV acute GVHD. The overall survival rate was significantly higher in patients with sMTX than in those without sMTX. Kato et al. [90] analyzed the clinical outcomes of CBT for 270 pediatric patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in Japan. Multivariate analysis revealed that the addition of MTX to calcineurin inhibitor was associated with decreased incidences of grade II–IV and grade III–IV acute GVHD and chronic GVHD, compared with calcineurin inhibitor alone or calcineurin inhibitor and prednisolone (PSL).

According to a recent retrospective study by Kanda et al. [91], the GVHD prophylaxis regimens used for CBT in Japan from 2006 to 2009 were CsA and MTX (37 %), Tac and MTX (25 %), Tac alone (14 %), CsA alone (8 %), Tac and MMF (5 %), CsA and MMF (3 %), CsA and PSL (3 %), and others, and 99 % of the patients received neither ATG nor alemtuzumab.

GVHD prophylaxis regimens for HLA-haploidentical donor transplantation

Infusion of large numbers of highly purified CD34 positive cells (median, 13.8 × 106/kg) after ATG-containing preconditioning provided a high engraftment rate and a low incidence of acute and chronic GVHD in patients who received HLA-haploidentical donor transplantation without posttransplant GVHD prophylaxis [92]. The Peking group reported the feasibility of transplantation using granulocyte colony-stimulating factor-mobilized bone marrow and peripheral blood stem cells from the same haploidentical donor with myeloablative conditioning consisting of cytosine arabinoside, busulfan, cyclophosphamide, semustine, and ATG, followed by GVHD prophylaxis consisting of CsA, sMTX, and MMF [93]. The Johns Hopkins group developed unmanipulated haploidentical bone marrow transplantation with high-dose posttransplantation cyclophosphamide as sole GVHD prophylaxis [94].

Table 3 shows a summary of pretransplant conditioning and GVHD prophylaxis regimens used for HLA-haploidentical donor transplantation in Japan. Infusion of purified CD34-positive cells from bone marrow [95] or peripheral blood mononuclear cells [96, 97] after ATG-containing preconditioning has been studied in Japan as well, with a low incidence of acute GVHD.
Table 3

Summary of pretransplant conditioning and GVHD prophylaxis regimens for HLA-haploidentical donor transplantation in Japan

References

Pretransplant conditioning/GVHD prophylaxis regimen

No. of patients

Design

Donor

Stem cell source

Incidence of grade II–IV acute GVHD (%)

Incidence of grade III–IV acute GVHD (%)

Incidence of chronic GVHD (%)

Yabe [95]

MAC + ATG/CD34+ cells positive selection + twice-daily CsA + PSL

3

Retro

Parent

BM

0

0

47

Kawano [96]

MAC ± ATG/CD34+ cells positive selection + Tac or CsA ± other

13a

Phase 1

Parent, sibling

PB

22

11

0

Matsuda [97]

MAC + ATG/CD34+ cells positive selection + no immunosuppressant

5

Retro

Parent, sibling

PB

0

0

40

Shimazaki [98]

MAC/Tac + sMTX

5

Pilot

Mother, NIMA-mm sibling, NIMA-mm offspring

PB

60

20

50

Obama [99]

RIC/Tac + sMTX

4

Retro

NIMA-mm sibling, NIMA-mm offspring

PB

75

25

 

Yabe [100]

MAC + ATG/Tac + sMTX ± other

6b

Retro

Mother

BM

17

0

83

Ichinohe [101]

MAC or RIC ± ATG/Tac ± other

35

Retro

Mother, NIMA-mm sibling, NIMA-mm offspring

BM, PB

56

24

83

Kanda [109]

MAC or RIC ± alemtuzumab/continuous CsA + sMTX

12

Pro

Sibling, child, uncle, cousin

PB

18

9

25

Ogawa [102]

RIC + ATG/Tac + mPSL

26

Retro

Sibling, child

PB

20

0

45

Yoshihara [106]

MAC or RIC ± ATG/Tac or CsA ± other

72c

Retro

Parent, sibling

BM, PB

55

33

73

MAC or RIC ± ATG/Tac + sMTX ± other

11c

 

Mother, sibling

BM, PB

11

0

63

Ogawa [103]

MAC/Tac + sMTX + mPSL + MMF

30

Retro

Mother, sibling, child, cousin

BM, PB

37

10

 

Kurokawa [107]

RIC + ATG/Tac

39

Retro

Parent, sibling, child

BM, PB

38

8

33

RIC + ATG/Tac + mPSL

27

      

Mochizuki [108]

MAC or RIC + ATG/Tac + sMTX + PSL

21

Retro

Parent, sibling

BM, PB

47

5

51

Ikegame [104]

MAC or RIC/CsA + sMTX or MMF

9d

Retro

Sibling, daughter

BM, PB

43

0

43

Kanda [63]

MAC or RIC ± alemtuzumab/continuous CsA + sMTX

14

Pro

Related

PB

14

0

14

Blank represents no data

GVHD graft-versus-host disease, MAC myeloablative preconditioning, ATG antithymocyte globulin, CsA cyclosporine A, PSL prednisone, Tac tacrolimus, sMTX short-term methotrexate, RIC reduced intensity preconditioning, mPSL methylprednisolone, MMF mycophenolate mofetil, Retro retrospective study, Pro prospective study, NIMA-mm noninherited maternal antigens-mismatched, BM bone marrow, PB peripheral blood stem cells

aOne patient received methylprednisolone only, and one patient received no GVHD prophylaxis after transplantation

bOne patient with severe combined immunodeficiency received no pretransplant conditioning

cSeventy-two patients with malignant disease and 11 patients with non-malignant disease were analyzed in this study

dOne patient received CsA only, and one patient received ATG-containing pretransplant conditioning

Based on the hypothesis that feto-maternal immunological tolerance exists between the mother and fetus, studies of HLA-haploidentical transplantation from the mother, siblings or offspring that were mismatched for noninherited maternal antigens (NIMA) were performed in a small number of cases [98, 99, 100]. Ichinohe et al. [101] analyzed the data of the JSHCT and demonstrated that incidences of grade II–IV acute GVHD and extensive chronic GVHD were 56 and 57 %, respectively, in patients who received HLA-haploidentical transplantation from NIMA-mismatched family members.

Ogawa and his colleagues do not restrict donors to NIMA-mismatched family members. Nonetheless, they demonstrated high engraftment rates and low incidences of acute GVHD after HLA-haploidentical donor transplantation with the RIC regimen including ATG and GVHD prophylaxis consisting of Tac and mPSL [102] or with the MAC regimen not including ATG and GVHD prophylaxis consisting of Tac, MTX, mPSL, and MMF [103]. Ikegame et al. [104] reported the feasibility of HLA-haploidentical transplantation using non-ATG-containing preconditioning followed by standard GVHD prophylaxis consisting of CsA and sMTX or MMF for HLA-homozygous patients from heterozygous donors. They analyzed the kinetics of serum soluble interleukin-2 receptor levels in 77 patients who had received HLA-haploidentical donor transplantation and demonstrated that a high soluble interleukin-2 receptor level (>810 U/mL) on day 7 was significantly associated with a higher incidence of grade II–III acute GVHD [105].

A combination of ATG-containing preconditioning and Tac-containing GVHD prophylaxis is used in other institutions [107, 108]. Kanda et al. [63, 109] prospectively evaluated the safety and efficacy of alemtuzumab in PBSCT from HLA-haploidentical donor with continuous CsA and sMTX. Sawada et al. [110] reported the feasibility of HLA-haploidentical BMT and PBSCT with posttransplantation cyclophosphamide for pediatric patients.

Summary of GVHD prophylaxis regimens in Japan

Taken together, a randomized study demonstrated a lower incidence of acute GVHD with a Tac-based regimen than with a CsA-based regimen. Retrospective and non-randomized prospective studies suggest that CsA-based and Tac-based GVHD prophylaxis regimens are well researched and nearly optimized for Japanese patients, including infusion methods and target blood concentration. MMF, which is not currently covered by health insurance in Japan, is used only in a small proportion of transplant institutions, and its benefit has not been proven by a comparative study. ATG is used in transplantation for SAA and HLA-haploidentical transplantation, as well as in transplantation for malignant diseases with RIC. It is noted that a large retrospective study from the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research confirmed that ATG recipients after RIC had an increased risk of malignancy relapse, more non-relapse mortality, and lower overall survival [111]. For CBT, it is not known whether Tac is better than CsA, whether MMF is better than MTX, and whether ATG is unnecessary. Japan has an obligation to optimize GVHD prophylaxis regimen in single-unit CBT. GVHD prophylaxis in HLA-haploidentical donor transplantation should be discussed in combination with optimization of the preconditioning regimen.

Initial therapy of acute GVHD

A standard initial therapy for grade II or higher acute GVHD is systemic administration of mPSL at 2 mg/kg/day or PSL at 2–2.5 mg/kg/day [112]. A randomized study comparing mPSL at 10 mg/kg/day for 5 days with subsequent tapering and mPSL at 2 mg/kg/day demonstrated no advantage of an initial dose higher than 2 mg/kg/day (2.5 mg/kg/day PSL-equivalent steroid dose) [113]. A retrospective study comparing a PSL-equivalent steroid dose of 1 and 2 mg/kg/day demonstrated no disadvantage of low-dose PSL at 1 mg/kg/day for patients with mild grade II acute GVHD [114]. Comparative studies evaluating a combination of PSL and other immunosuppressants, including antibodies against interleukin-2, ATG, etanercept, and infliximab [115, 116, 117, 118, 119, 120], did not demonstrate an advantage of the addition of these immunosuppressants to PSL. Oral beclomethasone dipropionate (BDP) allowed PSL to be rapidly tapered, with fewer recurrences of gastrointestinal GVHD [121].

There are only a few studies on the initial therapy of acute GVHD from Japan (Table 4). A nationwide study revealed that the response rate of grade II–IV acute GVHD to systemic PSL or mPSL in Japanese patients was approximately 64 % [122], which is comparable to that in Caucasian patients [123, 124]. Patients without improvement from initial therapy with systemic corticosteroid had a 2.5-times higher non-relapse mortality and a 0.6-times lower overall survival rate [122]. A higher probability of improvement was obtained in patients after CBT (vs. HLA-matched related BMT).
Table 4

Summary of studies on GVHD treatment in Japan

References

Agent

No. of patients

Design

Comment

Initial therapy of acute GVHD

 Murata [122]

PSL or mPSL

3436

Retro

Improved response: MRD-BM 74 %, MRD-PB 65 %, MUD-BM 60 %, CB 73 %, significantly higher response rate in CB

 Takashima [125]

Oral BDP alone

4

Phase 2

For CB, complete response 75 %, partial response 25 %, CMV antigenemia 50 %, CMV enteritis 25 %

PSL + oral BDP

11

Phase 2

For BM and PB, complete response 64 %, partial response 0 %, CMV antigenemia 64 %, CMV enteritis 18 %

Second-line therapy of acute GVHD

 Kanamaru [126]

Tac

13

Phase 2

Marked responsea 38 %, good responsea 15 %, renal toxicity 53 %, trough level at 15–25 ng/mL was recommended

 Inoue [135]

Colostrum

9

Pilot

Colostrum from random donors at 20 mL daily for 5 consecutive days, improve response 75 %

 Wada [136]

Betamethasone enema

8

Pilot

Improved response 75 %, no severe toxicity, one was intolerable

 Ohashi [127]

ATG

7

Pilot

For 3 patients, 15 mg/kg for 5 days, improved response 33 %, all died of infection or EBV-PTLD

   

For 4 patients, 7.5–15 mg/kg for 1–2 days, improved response 50 %, none died of infection or EBV-PTLD

 Yamane [137]

Infliximab

3

Pilot

5 mg/kg weekly for 3 weeks, partial response 33 %, minor response 33 %

 Takami [129]

MMF

6

Pro

Initial dose at 1500 mg/day, complete response 67 %, CMV antigenemia or pneumonia 67 %

 Inagaki [131]

MTX

10

Retro

5–10 mg/m2 weekly, complete response 50 %, partial response 20 %, neutropenia and/or thrombocytopenia 11 %

 Onishi [130]

MMF

15

Retro

Initial dose at 1500 mg/day, complete response 80 %, CMV antigenemia 73 %

 Iida [52]

MMF

94b

Retro

For related donor transplant, most common dosage 1000 mg/day, disappearance or improvement of subjective symptoms 59 %

 Muroi [133]

MSC

14

Phase 1/2

2 × 106 cells/kg twice a week for 4 weeks, complete response 57 %, partial response 36 %

 Iida [53]

MMF

230b

Retro

For unrelated donor transplant, most common dosage 1000 mg/day, disappearance or improvement of subjective symptoms 69 %

 Inagaki [132]

MTX

35

Retro

10 mg/m2 weekly, complete response 37 %, partial response 9 %, fatal infection 9 %

 Iyama [138]

NB-UVB

11

Pilot

For steroid-refractory skin acute GVHD without gut or liver involvement, complete response 72 %, partial response 18 %

 Nishimoto [128]

ATG

11

Retro

Initial dose at 1 mg/kg, total dose at 3 mg/kg, complete response 9 %, partial response 55 %

Initial therapy of chronic GVHD

 No report

    

Second-line therapy of chronic GVHD

 Kanamaru [126]

Tac

26

Phase 2

Marked responsea 8 %, good responsea 38 %, renal toxicity 53 %, trough level at 15–25 ng/mL is recommended

 Takami [129]

MMF

5

Pro

Initial dose at 1500 mg/day, complete response 40 %, CMV antigenemia or pneumonia 67 %

 Okamoto [149]

Rituximab

3

Pilot

375 mg/m2 weekly for 4 weeks for scleroderma, improved response 100 %, one died of sepsis

 Inagaki [131]

MTX

17

Retro

5–10 mg/m2 weekly, complete response 24 %, partial response 35 %, neutropenia and/or thrombocytopenia 11 %

 Teshima [150]

Rituximab

7

Phase 2

375 mg/m2 weekly for 4 weeks for extensive chronic GVHD, partial response 43 %, B cells were quickly eliminated within 2 weeks

 Hidaka [151]

Bezafibrate

8

Retro

400 mg b.i.d. for liver chronic GVHD with a poor response to ursodeoxycholic acid and immunosuppressants, complete normalization of hepatobiliary enzymes in 2 patients

 Onishi [130]

MMF

11

Retro

Initial dose at 500–1000 mg/day, complete response 45 %

 Iida [52]

MMF

50b

Retro

For related donor, most common dosage 1000 mg/day, resolution or improvement of subjective symptoms 52 %

 Iida [53]

MMF

84b

Retro

For unrelated donor, most common dosage 1000 mg/day, improvement of subjective symptoms 69 %

Therapy of BOS

 Yamane [156]

Lung transplantation

7

Retro

Living-donor lobar lung transplantation for 6 patients with bronchiolitis obliterans and 1 patient with lung fibrosis, 5 were alive with 7–100 months follow-up period (median, 38 months)

Therapy of eye chronic GVHD

 Ogawa [159]

Autologous serum

14

Pro

For severe dry eye, 20 % autologous serum in sterile saline

 Ogawa [158]

Tranilast

8

Pro

For mild dry eye, compared with 10 patients receiving topical artificial tears, sodium hyaluronic acid and vitamin A

 Yaguchi [160]

Lacrimal punctal cauterization

10

Pro

For dry eye with recurrent punctal plug extrusion, punctal thermal cauterization with a high-temperature disposable cautery device

GVHD graft-versus-host disease, PSL prednisone, mPSL methylprednisolone, BDP beclomethasone dipropionate, Tac tacrolimus, ATG antithymocyte globulin, MMF mycophenolate mofetil, MTX methotrexate, MSC mesenchymal stem cell, NB-UVB Narrowband ultraviolet B phototherapy, BOS Bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome, Retro retrospective study, Pro prospective study, MRD HLA-matched related donor, MUD HLA-matched unrelated donor, BM bone marrow, PB peripheral blood stem cells, CB cord blood, CMV cytomegalovirus, EBV-PTLD Epstein–Barr virus-associated posttransplantation lymphoproliferative disorder

aMarked response means improvement of two or more points of grade, and good response means improvement of one point of grade

bSome patients received MMF as initial therapy of acute or chronic GVHD

Takashima et al. [125] evaluated a treatment strategy for mild gastrointestinal GVHD using oral BDP 1.3 mg every 8 h for patients after CBT or a combination of oral BDP and PSL 1 mg/kg/day for patients after BMT and PBSCT. Mild gastrointestinal GVHD was defined as stage 1 gastrointestinal GVHD with stage 0–2 skin manifestations and no liver involvement. Treatment success was achieved in 100 and 64 % of patients after CBT and BMT/PBSCT, respectively. Common adverse events were CMV antigenemia and enteritis.

Second-line therapy of acute GVHD

There are many prospective and retrospective studies evaluating agents for second-line therapy of acute GVHD, including ATG, alemtuzumab, MMF, infliximab, etanercept, MTX, daclizumab, sirolimus, mesenchymal stem cells (MSC), and extracorporeal photopheresis (ECP). However, a consensus in the United States and Europe concluded that, in terms of response rate and survival rate, previous reports do not support the choice of any specific agent for secondary therapy of acute GVHD [112]. They also commented that there is no evidence that any specific agent should be avoided for secondary therapy of acute GVHD. Their recommendation was selected based on the effects of any previous treatment and taking into account potential toxicity and interactions with other agents, convenience, expense, the familiarity of the physician with the agent, and the prior experience of the physician.

No comparative study of second-line therapy of acute GVHD has been conducted in Japan (Table 4). Kanamaru et al. [126] performed a phase 2 study of Tac for patients with PSL- or other immunosuppressant-resistant acute GVHD. Ohashi et al. [127] reported the results of administration of equine ATG (Lymphoglobulin: Aventis Behring, Tokyo, Japan) for patients with steroid-resistant acute GVHD and suggested that low-dose ATG may obtain more favorable outcomes than standard-dose ATG in terms of infection or Epstein–Barr virus-associated posttransplantation lymphoproliferative disorder. Nishimoto et al. [128] also evaluated low-dose Thymoglobulin (Genzyme, Cambridge, MA, USA) and reported a good response in most patients with reduction of opportunistic infections. The nationwide survey of ATG as second-line therapy for acute GVHD is ongoing. Takami et al. [129] evaluated the outcomes of patients who were treated with MMF at a dosage of 1500 mg/day in a prospective study. Onishi et al. [130] retrospectively analyzed the outcome of patients who received MMF at an initial dose of 500–3000 (median 1500) mg/day. Both studies suggested that MMF may be effective for steroid-refractory acute GVHD, and that the most common adverse event was infection. Iida et al. conducted a nationwide survey to analyze the outcomes of patients who had received MMF as GVHD therapy after related [52] or unrelated [53] donor transplantation. Inagaki et al. [131, 132] suggested the efficacy of low-dose MTX at a dose of 10 mg/m2 weekly for pediatric patients in two retrospective studies. They concluded that low-dose MTX therapy has a low risk of opportunistic infection, is low toxicity, is easy to administer, and is inexpensive. Muroi et al. [133] reported the results of a phase 1/2 study evaluating the safety and efficacy of unrelated bone marrow-derived MSC in patients with steroid-refractory grade II–III acute GVHD. In an application for approval from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, the preliminary results of an additional prospective study for MSC have also been presented [134]. Pilot studies have been performed to assess the feasibility of colostrum obtained from random donors [135], betamethasone enemas [136], infliximab [137], and narrowband ultraviolet B phototherapy [138].

In summary, there is no comparative study on therapy for steroid-refractory acute GVHD in Japan, even a retrospective study. If systemic steroid therapy is ineffective, Japanese patients, as well as Western populations, cannot achieve a satisfactory survival rate [122]. We have to pay attention to acute GVHD, especially in elderly patients, because the hazard ratio for non-relapse mortality in patients 50 years or older is twice as great as that of 20-year-old patients [139].

Initial therapy of chronic GVHD

A standard initial therapy of chronic GVHD is prednisone at 1.0 mg/kg/day, which should be tapered within 2 weeks after the first evidence of improvement in the manifestations of chronic GVHD [140]. Six randomized phase 3 studies have been performed [141, 142, 143, 144, 145, 146], and only one indicated benefit. Koc et al. [144] suggested that addition of a calcineurin inhibitor to prednisone could reduce the amount of steroid treatment needed to control chronic GVHD and decrease the incidence of avascular necrosis.

There is no report on the initial systemic therapy of chronic GVHD from Japan (Table 4).

Second-line therapy of chronic GVHD

According to a consensus in the United States and Europe [147], treatment modalities for steroid-refractory chronic GVHD are additional steroids, calcineurin inhibitors, immunomodulating modalities (ECP, mTOR-inhibitors, thalidomide, hydroxychloroquine, vitamin A analogs, clofazimine), and cytostatic agents (MMF, MTX, cyclophosphamide, pentostatin). Other treatment options are rituximab, alemtuzumab, etanercept, tyrosine kinase inhibitors, and low-dose interleukin-2 [147, 148]. Even in the United States and Europe, evidence for second-line therapy of chronic GVHD is limited to prospective studies without randomization or retrospective studies.

Studies of second-line therapy for chronic GVHD are summarized in Table 4. Kanamaru et al. [126] performed a phase 2 study of Tac for 26 patients with PSL- or other immunosuppressant-resistant chronic GVHD. Takami et al. and Onishi et al. evaluated the safety and efficacy of MMF for steroid-refractory chronic GVHD in a prospective [129] and a retrospective [130] study, respectively. Iida et al. reported the results of a nationwide survey to determine the safety and efficacy of MMF in patients with chronic GVHD after related [52] or unrelated [53] donor transplantation. Following a report of three cases in which rituximab was possibly effective [149], Teshima et al. [150] reported the results of a phase 2 study of 375 mg/m2 rituximab therapy for 7 patients. Rituximab allowed a reduction in the steroid dose in 4 patients. They suggested the effectiveness of rituximab therapy for selected patients with steroid-refractory chronic GVHD that is not advanced. Inagaki et al. [131] demonstrated that administration of MTX at a dose of 3–10 mg/m2 weekly had allowed steroid treatment to be reduced or discontinued in 15 (88 %) of 17 pediatric patients with steroid-refractory or steroid-dependent chronic GVHD. Hidaka et al. [151] reported the efficacy of bezafibrate for liver chronic GVHD with a poor response to ursodeoxycholic acid. A clinical trial for ECP is ongoing in Japan.

Therapy of bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome (BOS)

Bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome is a rare complication, with a cumulative incidence of 2.8 % at 5 years after allogeneic HSCT in Japanese patients [152]. Effective immunosuppressive therapy has not yet been established and, in practice, some therapies including systemic corticosteroids, azithromycin and inhaled steroids, ECP, leukotriene inhibitors, etc. are being tried [153]. The prognosis is poor, with overall survival at 5 years after BOS diagnosis at 45 % [152]. Higher risk factors for the development of BOS are female recipient, ABO-mismatched donor, busulfan and cyclophosphamide-based myeloablative conditioning, and acute GVHD, whereas CBT was found to be associated with a lower risk [154].

There have been no reports assessing the efficacy of drug treatments of BOS patients from Japan (Table 4). However, successful cases of living-donor lobar lung transplantation (LDLLT) have been reported [155, 156]. Given a severe deficit of cadaveric donor organs, LDLLT is performed for various lung diseases including BOS after HSCT in Japan [157]. Yamane et al. [156] demonstrated that LDLLT for post-HSCT patients with respiratory failure (n = 7) was effective, with less rejection episodes compared with control patients without prior HSCT (n = 41), but they suggested that LDLLT may have a higher risk for the development of infectious complications.

In summary, there is no comparative study of therapy for steroid-refractory chronic GVHD in Japan, even a retrospective study.

Nonsystemic therapy of chronic GVHD

Interventions including topical corticosteroids, topical Tac, CsA eye drops, and other nonsystemic therapies, as well as supportive care to prevent infections, osteoporosis, metabolic abnormalities, and other problems, are important components of the management of chronic GVHD. However, only a few studies of nonsystemic therapy have been reported from Japan (Table 4).

Chronic eye GVHD

Because the severity of ocular disease often does not correlate with that of systemic disease, systemic immunosuppression is not necessarily an optimal approach for ocular GVHD, except in occasional cases. Ogawa et al. are involved in the establishment of topical treatment for ocular chronic GVHD (Table 4). They reported the safety and efficacy of topical tranilast for mild dry eye [158], autologous serum eye drops for severe dry eye [159], and lacrimal punctal cauterization for dry eye with recurrent punctal plug extrusion [160] in Japanese patients with chronic GVHD affecting the eyes.

Conclusion

This review has documented how many studies on prophylactic and therapeutic treatment of acute and chronic GVHD have been conducted in Japan. We should not play down our own data. However, what was surprising is that most studies were performed in a single institute and included a small number of patients, resulting in biased conclusions. Given the establishment of the “Transplant Registry Unified Management Program” in the JSHCT [161], it is important to actively use not only detailed data in limited institutions, but also large-scale registry data to obtain more reliable results in the future.

Unfortunately, only one phase 3 study has been conducted in Japan [28]. A prospective, randomized study of GVHD treatment is extremely difficult, partly due to the small number of eligible patients in each transplant institute, the need for prompt initiation of therapy, and, maybe in Japan, the thought of leaving the question of GVHD to other countries. This review may provide a baseline for starting prospective studies to create new evidence for GVHD treatment from Japan.

Notes

Acknowledgments

The author would like to thank the data managers at the Japan Data Center for Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation, the members of the GVHD working group of JSHCT, and all the physicians at each transplant center in Japan. This work was supported in part by a Health and Labour Sciences Research Grant (H25-Immunology-104 and H26-Immunology-106) from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, Japan.

Conflict of interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.

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© The Japanese Society of Hematology 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Hematology and OncologyNagoya University Graduate School of MedicineNagoyaJapan

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