Pediatric Drugs

, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 49–69

Calcineurin Inhibitor-Free Immunosuppression in Pediatric Renal Transplantation

A Viable Option?
Review Article


The introduction, in the mid-1980s, of calcineurin inhibitors — namely ciclosporin (cyclosporine) and later tacrolimus — has significantly improved short-term renal graft survival by lowering acute rejection rates in both adult and pediatric kidney transplantation. Nonetheless, long-term transplant survival is still not satisfactory, with calcineurin inhibitor-induced chronic nephrotoxicity being one of the main causes of progressive nephron loss and declining renal transplant function. Hence, different immunosuppressant regimens have been proposed to avoid or ameliorate calcineurin inhibitor-induced nephrotoxicity. These comprise the use of non-depleting or depleting antibodies for calcineurin inhibitor minimization, calcineurin inhibitor avoidance, or calcineurin inhibitor withdrawal from mycophenolate mofetil-based immunosuppressant protocols. De novo use of a mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) inhibitor (sirolimus or everolimus) or conversion from a calcineurin inhibitor to an mTOR inhibitor may constitute another therapeutic option to avoid or reduce calcineurin inhibitor-induced nephrotoxicity.

To date, complete calcineurin inhibitor avoidance seems to be inappropriate because other relatively potent immunosuppressant agents such as lymphocyte-depleting antibodies are needed for rejection prophylaxis, which are frequently accompanied by a higher incidence of infections and an unacceptably high acute rejection rate under calcineurin inhibitor avoidance. In some studies, calcineurin inhibitor withdrawal in adult and pediatric kidney allograft recipients with stable or declining transplant function has been associated with an amelioration of renal function; however, this is attained at the cost of a higher acute rejection rate in 10–20% of patients. It has been frequently stressed that conversion from a calcineurin inhibitor-based regimen to an mTOR inhibitor-based immunosuppressant regimen should be performed early (e.g. 3 or 6 months post-transplant) in patients with well-preserved renal transplant function without significant proteinuria in order to prevent, or at least limit, calcineurin inhibitor-induced tissue damage and provide long-term benefit. It should be borne in mind though that the use of an mTOR inhibitor carries the risk of potential adverse events such as aggravation of proteinuria, hyperlipidemia, myelosuppression, and hypergonadotropic hypogonadism. Even though everolimus may be better tolerated than sirolimus, studies on everolimus for calcineurin inhibitor-free immunosuppression in the pediatric kidney transplant patient population are lacking.

At present, the safest therapeutic strategy for pediatric renal allograft recipients with chronic calcineurin inhibitor-induced nephrotoxicity appears to be a mycophenolate mofetil-based regimen with low-dose calcineurin inhibitor therapy and corticosteroids; available published data show that dual immunosuppression with mycophenolate mofetil and corticosteroids, as well as an mTOR inhibitor plus mycophenolate mofetil plus corticosteroid-based regimens, are associated with an increased risk of acute rejection episodes. In individual patients with evidenced chronic allograft dysfunction and over-immunosuppression leading to recurrent infections, dual maintenance immunosuppression with mycophenolate mofetil and corticosteroids may be appropriate. As stated in the annual report issued by the North American Pediatric Renal Trials and Collaborative Studies (NAPRTCS) Registry, currently the most popular immunosuppressant protocol consists of a calcineurin inhibitor combined with mycophenolate mofetil and corticosteroids: 59.1% and 53.2% of patients with a functioning graft receive a calcineurin inhibitor plus mycophenolate mofetil plus corticosteroid-based immunosuppression at 1 and 5 years post-transplant, respectively. 91.4% and 87.8% of patients are administered a calcineurin inhibitor-containing regimen 1 and/or 5 years after transplantation, respectively. Undoubtedly, the use of calcineurin inhibitor-free immunosuppressant regimens with or without antibody induction, plus an mTOR inhibitor and mycophenolate mofetil, requires more comprehensive long-term investigations to determine whether acceptable rejection rates and conservation of renal function can be achieved.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Pediatric NephrologyUniversity Children’s Hospital HeidelbergHeidelbergGermany
  2. 2.University Children’s Hospital HeidelbergHeidelbergGermany

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