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Drugs Aging. 2005;22(7):541-57.

Pharmacokinetic considerations relating to tacrolimus dosing in the elderly.

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School of Pharmacy, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.


Relaxation of the upper age limits for solid organ transplantation coupled with improvements in post-transplant survival have resulted in greater numbers of elderly patients receiving immunosuppressant drugs such as tacrolimus. Tacrolimus is a potent agent with a narrow therapeutic window and large inter- and intraindividual pharmacokinetic variability. Numerous physiological changes occur with aging that could potentially affect the pharmacokinetics of tacrolimus and, hence, patient dosage requirements. Tacrolimus is primarily metabolised by cytochrome P450 (CYP) 3A enzymes in the gut wall and liver. It is also a substrate for P-glycoprotein, which counter-transports diffused tacrolimus out of intestinal cells and back into the gut lumen. Age-associated alterations in CYP 3A and P-glycoprotein expression and/or activity, along with liver mass and body composition changes, would be expected to affect the pharmacokinetics of tacrolimus in the elderly. However, interindividual variation in these processes may mask any changes caused by aging. More investigation is needed into the impact aging has on CYP and P-glycoprotein activity and expression. No single-dose, intense blood-sampling study has specifically compared the pharmacokinetics of tacrolimus across different patient age groups. However, five population pharmacokinetic studies, one in kidney, one in bone marrow and three in liver transplant recipients, have investigated age as a co-variate. None found a significant influence for age on tacrolimus bioavailability, volume of distribution or clearance. The number of elderly patients included in each study, however, was not documented and may have been only small. It is likely that inter- and intraindividual pharmacokinetic variability associated with tacrolimus increase in elderly populations. In addition to pharmacokinetic differences, donor organ viability, multiple co-morbidity, polypharmacy and immunological changes need to be considered when using tacrolimus in the elderly. Aging is associated with decreased immunoresponsiveness, a slower body repair process and increased drug adverse effects. Elderly liver and kidney transplant recipients are more likely to develop new-onset diabetes mellitus than younger patients. Elderly transplant recipients exhibit higher mortality from infectious and cardiovascular causes than younger patients but may be less likely to develop acute rejection. Elderly kidney recipients have a higher potential for chronic allograft nephropathy, and a single rejection episode can be more devastating. There is a paucity of information on optimal tacrolimus dosage and target trough concentration in the elderly. The therapeutic window for tacrolimus concentrations may be narrower. Further integrated pharmacokinetic-pharmacodynamic studies of tacrolimus are required. It would appear reasonable, based on current knowledge, to commence tacrolimus at similar doses as those used in younger patients. Maintenance dose requirements over the longer term may be lower in the elderly, but the increased variability in kinetics and the variety of factors that impact on dosage suggest that patient care needs to be based around more frequent monitoring in this age group.

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