Background: Steroid-free immunosuppression is feasible in selected patients after heart transplantation. Survival and incidence of acute rejection are important parameters to evaluate when weighing risks and benefits of steroid withdrawal. Methods: One hundred thirty-seven patients were retrospectively reviewed who underwent heart transplant at Emory University between January 1988 and April 1994 and survived >1 year. Standard immunosuppression (cyclosporine, azathioprine and prednisone) without induction therapy was used. Weaning from steroids was attempted in all patients. Scheduled endomyocardial biopsy was used for long-term surveillance screening. Results: Seventy-two patients (52.5%) underwent successful prednisone withdrawal (Group P0) at an average of 13 months after heart transplant, whereas 65 patients (47.5%) did not achieve steroid-free immunosuppression (Group P1). Group P0 had a mean of 1.3 treated rejection episodes (ISHLT Grade ≥1b) during the first post-transplant year and Group P1 a mean of 2.3 (p <0.0001). In Group P0, 40 patients (55.6%) suffered a subsequent acute rejection with an ISHLT Grade ≥1b, resulting in treatment. Of these, 15% were ISHLT Grade 1b, 47.5% Grade 2, 35% Grade 3a and 2.5% Grade 3b. The estimated risk of suffering from acute rejection of at least Grade 1b after achieving steroid-free immunosuppression was 50% at 21 months. Estimated survival at 5 years after heart transplant was 92.9% in Group P0 and 72.3% in Group P1 (p <0.01). Cox proportional hazard modeling revealed black recipient race as effect modifier of group status with decreased survival time in both groups. Conclusion: Steroid-free immunosuppression in white heart transplant recipients is associated with improved survival. A low acute rejection score during the first year predicts successful steroid withdrawal. Black recipient race appears to be negatively associated with survival and deserves further detailed study. Long-term surveillance screening using endomyocardial biopsy is recommended.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
- Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine