Survival and incidence of acute rejection in heart transplant recipients undergoing successful withdrawal from steroid therapy

Thomas O. Felkel, Andrew L. Smith, Hermann C. Reichenspurner, Bonnie LaFleur, Jerre F. Lutz, Kirk R. Kanter, Michael B. Gravanis, Thomas S. Johnston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)530-539
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Heart and Lung Transplantation
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Transplantation


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