Immunosuppressive agents in organ transplantation past, present, and future

Johnny C. Hong, Barry D. Kahan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

145 Scopus citations


The development of immunosuppressive agents reflects the progress in understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms which mediate allograft rejection. Six paradigms represent the evolution of immunosuppressive strategies for organ transplantation. The proliferation paradigm advances agents which interrupt lymphocyte cell division (azathioprine, cyclophosphamide, mycophenolic acid). The depletion paradigm conscripts drugs that bind to lymphocyte cell surface markers, thereby producing cell lysis and/or inactivation (polyclonal ATGAM and thymoglobulin, and monoclonal OKT3 antilymphocyte antibodies). The cytokine paradigm uses agents that interrupt lymphocyte maturational events; eg, synthesis (calcineurin inhibitors cyclosporine/tacrolimus), binding to surface receptors (anti-CD25 mAbs), or signal transduction phases of cytokine stimulation (sirolimus). The introduction of calcineurin inhibitors markedly reduces the rate of acute rejection episodes and increases short-term graft survival rates; nephrotoxicity and chronic allograft attrition remain as unanswered challenges. The cyclosporine A (CsA) sparing property of sirolimus permits the use of lower exposure to calcineurin agents, allows for early withdrawal of steroid therapy, and may delay allograft senescence. Furthermore, the combination of SRL with anti-IL-2R mAbs proffers an induction approach which allows prolonged periods of holiday from calcineurin inhibitors. To address the tissue nonselectivity of the calcineurin and mTOR inhibitors, which presumably causes the drug toxicities, new agents are being developed to selectively inhibit the T cell target Janus Kinase 3. In the costimulation paradigm, the accessory signals generated by antigen-presenting cells are interrupted by distinct agents: the receptor conjugate CTLA4-immunoglobulin and anti-B7 or anti-CD40 ligand mAbs. Another set of drugs (selectin blocking agents, anti-ICAM-1 antisense deoxy oligonucleotides, and the lymphocyte homing inhibitor FTY720) seeks to modulate the ischemia-reperfusion injury, which exacerbates cytokine-mediated events in the donor and the subsequent procurement injury and may also accelerate the progression of transplant senescence. Finally, the transplantation tolerance paradigm is based on the development of strategies which distort alloimmune recognition by antigen reactive cells (MHC peptides or proteins), produce anergy (costimulation blockers), functional inactivation, or deletion of antigen-reactive cells (donor bone marrow infusions and gene therapy). Presently, the optimal immunosuppressive strategy uses combinations of agents that act in synergistic fashion to provide the potency, freedom from toxic reactions, convenience of administration, and cost appropriate for the individual patient.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)108-125
Number of pages18
JournalSeminars in Nephrology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2000

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Nephrology


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