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J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2003 Sep;17(5):493-503.

Pimecrolimus: a review.

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  • 1Division of Dermatology, Department of Medicine, Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Science Center (Sunnybrook site) and the University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada.


Pimecrolimus (SDZ ASM 981), an ascomycin derivative, is one of the new classes of immunomodulating macrolactams and was specifically developed for the treatment of inflammatory skin diseases. The interest in pimecrolimus has been substantial because of its significant anti-inflammatory activity and immunomodulatory capabilities and its low systemic immunosuppressive potential. The mechanism of action of pimecrolimus is the blockage of T cell activation. Pimecrolimus (like all ascomycins) is an immunophilin ligand, which binds specifically to the cytosolic receptor, immunophilin macrophilin-12. This pimecrolimus-macrophilin complex effectively inhibits the protein phosphatase calcineurin, by preventing calcineurin from dephosphorylating the nuclear factor of activated T cells (NF-AT), a transcription factor. This results in the blockage of signal transduction pathways in T cells and the inhibition of the synthesis of inflammatory cytokines, specifically Th1- and Th2-type cytokines. Pimecrolimus has also been shown to prevent the release of cytokines and pro-inflammatory mediators from mast cells. Several studies have evaluated the effectiveness of pimecrolimus as a treatment for skin diseases. In animal models of allergic contact dermatitis, topical pimecrolimus was found to be effective. In human studies of allergic contact dermatitis pimecrolimus demonstrated significantly more efficacy than the control treatment. As well, the effectiveness of pimecrolimus 0.6% cream was comparable to 0.1% betamethasone-17-valerate; however, pimecrolimus was not associated with any of the side effects characteristic of a topical steroid. Topical application of pimecrolimus is not associated with skin atrophy. Pimecrolimus is effective and safe in both children and adults with atopic dermatitis. When pimecrolimus 1% cream has been applied to adult atopics, improvement has been observed as early as the first week, with a 72% reduction in severity after 3 weeks. Pharmacokinetic studies have shown very low blood levels of pimecrolimus following topical application, with no accumulation after repeated applications. Following application of pimecrolimus cream occasional transient irritation may be experienced at the application site. Similar results have also been found in children aged 3 months and older following application of pimecrolimus 1% cream. Topical pimecrolimus in psoriasis appears to exhibit a dose-dependent therapeutic effect under semi-occlusive conditions. Pimecrolimus has an enormous potential as a new treatment of inflammatory skin diseases. It has been shown to be effective in atopic and allergic contact dermatitis, with a favorable adverse-effects profile, which includes little effect on the systemic immune response.

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