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Toxicol In Vitro. 2018 Apr;48:86-92. doi: 10.1016/j.tiv.2018.01.004. Epub 2018 Jan 5.

Effect of cyclosporine, tacrolimus and sirolimus on cellular senescence in renal epithelial cells.

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Department of Internal Medicine IV Nephrology, Medical University Innsbruck, Austria. Electronic address:
Department of Physiology, Medical University Innsbruck, Austria.
Division of Genetic Epidemiology, Medical University Innsbruck, Austria.
Department of Internal Medicine II; Infectious Diseases, Medical University Innsbruck, Austria.
Department of Internal Medicine IV Nephrology, Medical University Innsbruck, Austria.



In transplantation medicine calcineurin inhibitors (CNI) still represent the backbone of immunosuppressive therapy. The nephrotoxic potential of the CNI Cyclosporine A (CsA) and Tacrolimus (FK506) is well recognized and CNI not only have been linked with toxicity, but also with cellular senescence which hinders parenchymal tissue regeneration and thus may prime kidneys for subsequent insults. To minimize pathological effects on kidney grafts, alternative immunosuppressive agents like mTOR inhibitors or the T-cell co-stimulation blocker Belatacept have been introduced.


We compared the effects of CsA, FK506 and Sirolimus on the process of cellular senescence in different human renal tubule cell types (HK2, RPTEC). Telomere length (by real time PCR), DNA synthesis (by BrdU incorporation), cell viability (by Resazurin conversion), gene expression (by RT-PCR), protein (by western blotting), Immuncytochemistry and H2O2 production (by Amplex Red® conversion) were evaluated.


DNA synthesis was significantly reduced when cells were treated with cyclosporine but not with tacrolimus and sirolimus. Resazurin conversion was not altered by all three immunosuppressive agents. The gene expression as well as protein production of the cell cycle inhibitor p21 (CDKN1A) but not p16 (CDKN2A) was significantly induced by cyclosporine compared to the other two immunosuppressive agents when determined by western blotting an immuncytochemistry. Relative telomere length was reduced and hydrogen peroxide production increased after treatment with CsA but not with FK506 or sirolimus.


In summary, renal tubule cells exposed to CsA show clear signs of cellular senescence where on the contrary the second calcineurin inhibitor FK506 and the mTOR inhibitor sirolimus are not involved in such mechanisms. Chronic renal allograft dysfunction could be in part triggered by cellular senescence induced by immunosuppressive medication and the choice of drug could therefore influence long term outcome. Tacrolimus and Sirolimus are equally effective in avoiding cellular senescence compared to cyclosporine at least in parts due to a lack of induction of reactive oxygen species.


CDKN1A/p21, CDKN2A/p16; Cellular senescence; Cyclosporin; Immunosuppression; Sirolimus; Tacrolimus; Telomere

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