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Transplantation. 2006 Aug 27;82(4):550-7.

Calcineurin inhibitors, but not rapamycin, reduce percentages of CD4+CD25+FOXP3+ regulatory T cells in renal transplant recipients.

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Servicios Inmunología, Hospital Universitario Marqués de Valdecilla, Santander, Spain.



Immunosuppression in renal transplantation, although manageable in the short-term, is a major hurdle for long-term graft survival. Recently, increased frequencies of CD4CD25 regulatory T cells (Tregs) have been described as an additional mechanism that induces alloimmune tolerance.


We assessed 64 renal transplant recipients with stable renal function for at least one year. Patients were divided into two groups according to the immunosuppression they were receiving at the moment of the study: one consisted of patients receiving rapamycin (Rapa) but not calcineurin inhibitors (CNI), and the other group received CNI but not Rapa. The Rapa group was further divided into three subgroups according to their previous experience with CNI: CNI-free, CNI withdrawal, and CNI conversion. Frequencies of blood Tregs were studied by flow cytometry after staining with monoclonal antibodies specific for different markers of Tregs.


Frequencies of CD4 T cells with regulatory phenotype and function were significantly decreased in peripheral blood of renal transplant patients receiving CNI compared with those receiving Rapa. This effect was independent of an early exposure to CNI because the CNI-free patients in the Rapa group showed similar frequencies of Tregs to the CNI withdrawal and CNI conversion groups.


CNI, but not Rapa, induce a decrease of circulating Tregs in stable renal transplant recipients. Thus, Rapa might be further explored in strategies using preservation of Tregs for transplant tolerance. Furthermore, quantification of blood Tregs may be a suitable tool to identify renal transplant recipients who may be candidates for reduced immunosuppression.

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