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Mycophenolate mofetil (MMF) is a powerful immunosuppressant that inhibits the proliferation of T and B lymphocytes by blocking the enzyme inosine monophosphate dehydrogenase. MMF has been shown to prevent acute graft rejection in animal experiments and may have an important role in clinical renal transplantation.

We conducted a prospective, double-blind, multicenter trial to compare the efficacy and safety of MMF and azathioprine within a standard immunosuppressive regimen for patients receiving a first or second cadaveric renal graft. A total of 503 patients were randomized to groups receiving MMF 3 g (n=164), MMF 2 g (n=173), or azathioprine (AZA) 100-150 mg (n=166) daily. All were treated simultaneously with equivalent doses of cyclosporine and oral corticosteroids and followed for 12 months. The primary endpoint was treatment failure, defined as the occurrence of biopsyproven graft rejection, graft loss, patient death, or discontinuation of the study drug during the first 6 months after transplantation.

Treatment failure occurred in 50.0% of patients in the AZA group by 6 months after transplantation, compared with 34.8% in the MMF 3 g group (P=0.0045) and 38.2% in the MMF 2 g group (P=0.0287). Biopsy-proven rejection occurred in 15.9% of patients in the MMF 3 g group and 19.7% in the MMF 2 g group, compared with 35.5% in the AZA group. Rejection of histologic severity grade II or more developed in 6.1%, 10.4%, and 19.9% of patients in the MMF 3 g, MMF 2 g, and AZA groups, respectively. Patients receiving MMF required less frequent and less intensive treatment for acute rejection: 24.4% of patients on MMF 3 g and 31.0% on MMF 2 g were treated for acute rejection, compared with 47.5% on AZA. Only 4.9% on MMF 3 g and 8.8% on MMF 2 g required antilymphocyte antibodies for treatment of severe or steroid-resistant rejection, compared with 15.4% of the patients on AZA. At 1 year afte transplantation, graft survival in the MMF groups was marginally superior to that in the AZA group, although this difference was not statistically significant. Gastrointestinal toxicity and tissue-invasive cytomegalovirus infection were more common in the MMF 3 g group. Noncutaneous malignancies occurred in six patients on MMF 3 g, three patients on MMF 2 g, and four patients on AZA. Lymphoproliferative disorders occurred in two patients per MMF group, compared with one patient receiving AZA.

MMF appears to be an important advance in prophylaxis following renal transplantation. It is associated with a significantly lower rate of treatment failure compared with AZA during the first 6 months after renal transplantation and produces a clinically important reduction in the incidence, severity, and treatment of acute graft rejection. These differences persist throughout the first year of follow-up. Clinical benefit was greatest with a dose of MMF 3 g/day, but gastrointestinal effects, invasive cytomegalovirus infection, and malignancies were slightly more common at that dose. The appropriate dose may lie between 2 g and 3 g per day and may require individualization depending on clinical course or other factors.

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