American Journal of Cardiovascular Drugs

, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 21–29 | Cite as

Calcineurin Inhibitor-Associated Early Renal Insufficiency in Cardiac Transplant Recipients

Risk Factors and Strategies for Prevention and Treatment
  • David A. BaranEmail author
  • Ira D. Galin
  • Alan L. Gass
Review Article


Cardiac transplantation is the definitive treatment for eligible patients with end-stage cardiac failure. Techniques have evolved to reduce surgical mortality to under 5%. Immediate and subsequent long-term survival is more dependent on acute and chronic rejection and the complications of immunosuppressive therapy. Ten-year survival is greater than 50%.

The success of transplantation over the last 20 years has been largely due to the advances in immunosuppression. The most notable and dramatic milestone was the introduction of cyclosporine in the early 1980s, which resulted in a significant improvement in allograft and patient survival. Cyclosporine is a peptide that inhibits the immune system by suppressing T-helper cell activation via inhibition of calcineurin, a critical intracellular enzyme. Tacrolimus has a similar (but not identical) mechanism of action, and was introduced in the 1990s. Drugs such as cyclosporine and tacrolimus, generically referred to as calcineurin inhibitors, have become the cornerstones of immunosuppressive protocols.

As a group, calcineurin inhibitors have adverse effects, including neurotoxicity, hypertension, and nephrotoxicity, which complicate their use. Early renal insufficiency manifests as postoperative oliguria (<50 mL/h urine output) or rising serum creatinine levels. There are a variety of postulated causes for calcineurin inhibitor-associated early renal insufficiency including direct calcineurin inhibitor-mediated renal arteriolar vasoconstriction, increased levels of endothelin-1 (a potent vasoconstrictor), as well as decreased nitric oxide production and alterations in the kidney’s ability to adjust to changes in serum tonicity.

Once early renal insufficiency occurs, no single treatment has been shown to be effective. Approaches discussed in this paper include reduction in calcineurin inhibitor dosages, as well as various drugs to promote increased renal perfusion such as misoprostol and dopamine. In addition, the paper emphasizes the importance of ruling out other causes of renal insufficiency in the early postoperative period, including volume depletion, depressed cardiac output, and mechanical obstruction to urine flow.

Given that there is no highly efficacious treatment for this syndrome, ways to avoid its occurrence are desirable. One paper is referenced that suggests that avoidance of rapid changes in tacrolimus level during the first three days of therapy is associated with a low occurrence of early renal insufficiency.


Tacrolimus Felodipine Misoprostol Calcineurin Inhibitor Nesiritide 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The authors have provided no information on sources of funding. There are no conflicts of interest directly relevant to the content of this review.


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Copyright information

© Adis Data Information BV 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Heart Failure and Transplant ResearchNewark Beth Israel Medical CenterNewarkUSA
  2. 2.Mt Sinai HospitalNew YorkUSA

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