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Metab Syndr Relat Disord. 2004 Fall;2(4):263-73. doi: 10.1089/met.2004.2.263.

Immunosuppression and metabolic syndrome in renal transplant recipients.

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  • 1College of Pharmacy, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Memphis, Tennessee.


Cardiovascular disease is the major cause of death in renal transplant recipients. Renal transplant recipients share the same cardiovascular risk factors as the general population, including hypertension, hyperlipidemia, diabetes mellitus, smoking, and positive family history. However, renal transplant recipients are also exposed to transplant-specific risk factors such as chronic immunosuppression. Most renal transplant recipients receive combinations or permutations of immunosuppressive drugs including a calcineurin inhibitor (cyclosporine or tacrolimus), a mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) inhibitor (sirolimus), an antiproliferative drug (mycophenolate mofetil and azathioprine), and corticosteroids. Cyclosporine and tacrolimus can induce glucose intolerance, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia. Sirolimus can induce hyperlipidemia. Corticosteroids can induce glucose intolerance, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and weight gain. Central to the development of metabolic complications in renal transplant recipients is insulin resistance induced by immunosuppressive drugs. Insulin resistance is considered to be the central pathophysiological feature of metabolic syndrome, which is linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and to chronic renal failure. Therefore, metabolic syndrome likely contributes to cardiovascular disease and chronic renal allograft dysfunction in renal transplant recipients. Treatment of metabolic complications in renal transplant recipients is difficult, as conversion to an alternate immunosuppressive drug may lead to introduction of new metabolic complications, and as discontinuation of immunosuppressive therapy may lead to rejection. Future research should focus on designing immunosuppressive regimens that have minimal effects on insulin resistance and metabolic complications but that are effective in preventing acute rejection and in prolonging both allograft and patient survival.

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