Immunosuppressive therapy reduction and early post-infection graft function in kidney transplant recipients with COVID-19

Abstract

Background: Kidney transplant (KT) recipients with COVID-19 are at high risk of poor outcomes due to the high burden of comorbidities and immunosuppression. The effects of immunosuppressive therapy (IST) reduction are unclear in patients with COVID-19.
Methods: A retrospective study on 45 KT recipients followed at the University Hospital of Modena (Italy) who tested positive for COVID-19 by RT-PCR analysis.
Results: The median age was 56.1 years (interquartile range,[IQR] 47.3-61.1), with a predominance of males (64.4%). Kidney transplantation vintage was 10.1 (2.7-16) years, and 55.6 % of patients were on triple IST before COVID-19. Early immunosuppression minimization occurred in 27 (60%) patients (reduced-dose IST group) and included antimetabolite (88.8%) and calcineurin inhibitor withdrawal (22.2%). After SARS-CoV-2 infection, 88.9% of patients became symptomatic and 42.2% required hospitalization. One patient experienced irreversible graft failure. There were no differences in serum creatinine level and proteinuria in non-hospitalized patients before and post-COVID-19, whereas hospitalized patients experienced better kidney function after hospital discharge (P=0.019). Overall mortality was 17.8%. without differences between full- and reduced-dose IST. Risk factors for death were age (odds ratio [OR]: 1.19; 95%CI: 1.01-1.39), and duration of kidney transplant (OR: 1.17; 95%CI: 1.01-1.35). One KT recipient developed IgA glomerulonephritis and two ones experienced symptomatic COVID-19 after primary infection and SARS-CoV-2 mRNA vaccine, respectively.
Conclusions: Despite the reduction of immunosuppression, COVID-19 affected the survival of KT recipients. Age of patients and time elapsed from kidney transplantation were independent predictors of death . Early kidney function was favorable in most survivors after COVID-19.

Keywords: COVID-19, kidney transplant, immunosuppressive therapy, graft function, proteinuria, mortality, transplant, SARS-COV-2, reinfection

Introduction

Since SARS CoV-2 infection was first identified in December 2019, the pandemic spread quickly around the world, with a disruptive impact on social and economic life. This virus yielded several new challenges to our healthcare systems that had to cope with an increased rate of morbidity and mortality among the most vulnerable populations [1]. Kidney transplant (KT) recipients are a subset of the population at high risk of severe COVID-19 due to the high burden of comorbidities and the cumulative side effects of immunosuppressive therapy (IST) [2]. Data collected so far show that transplant recipients are extremely susceptible to the SARS-CoV-2 infection, much more than the general population [3, 4]. The causes are multiple, but principally revolve around the use of long-term IST. 

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Immunosuppression in kidney transplantation: a way between efficacy and toxicity

Abstract

Renal transplantation is the best treatment for patients with end-stage renal disease.

Over the last decades, the introduction of new immunosuppressive agents resulted into the reduction of the incidence of acute rejection and early graft loss. Despite this progress, there has been little improvement in the average life of the transplant.

The main reasons of late failure are patient’s death due to several complications (e.g. cancer, infectious or metabolic), and progressive deterioration of renal function caused by immunological and non-immunological factors.

The immunosuppressive therapy can be distinguished into two components: the induction therapy and the maintenance therapy. The former has the aim to implement intense and immediate immunosuppression. This therapy is mostly useful in transplant with high immunological risk, although it is correlated with an increased risk of cytopenias and viral infections.

The latter offers the rationale to prevent organ rejection and minimize drug toxicity. This is generally constituted by the association of two or three drugs with different mechanism of action.

The most common application of this scheme includes a calcineurin inhibitor in combination with an antimetabolite and a minimum dose of steroids.

Immunosuppressive therapy is also associated to an increased risk of infections and cancer development. For instance, each class of drugs is related to a different profile of toxicity.

The choice of treatment protocol should take into account the clinical characteristics of the donor and recipient. Furthermore, this treatment may change anytime when clinical conditions result into complications.

Key words: immunosuppressive protocols, immunosuppressive therapy, induction therapy, renal transplantation

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Introduzione

Il trapianto renale è la terapia che garantisce la maggior aspettativa di vita e la migliore qualità tra le terapie proponibili ai pazienti affetti da IRC terminale, con costi complessivamente ridotti rispetto alla dialisi [1234].

Nelle ultime due decadi, grazie alla progressiva conoscenza dei meccanismi alla base della risposta immune all’innesto nell’organismo di cellule e tessuti eterologhi (attivazione e proliferazione dei linfociti T e B, citochine e chemochine di segnale, attivazione del complemento), sono entrati nella pratica clinica agenti immunosoppressori in grado di bloccare a vari livelli la cascata della risposta immune e di ridurre più efficacemente l’incidenza di rigetto acuto e di perdita precoce del graft.

Nonostante la riduzione del tasso dei rigetti acuti e di fallimento precoce, vi sono stati solo limitati progressi nell’allungamento della vita media del trapianto. Le principali cause di fallimento tardivo sono la morte del paziente con rene funzionante per complicanze infettive, tumorali o metaboliche, eventi cardiovascolari ed il progressivo deterioramento della funzione renale causato sia da fattori immunologici (rigetto cellulare tardivo, rigetto anticorpo-mediato, recidiva di nefropatia autoimmune) che da fattori non immunologici (nefrotossicità da CNI o altri farmaci, diabete, ipertensione arteriosa, invecchiamento dell’organo).
 

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