Pro: The use of calcineurin inhibitors in the treatment of lupus nephritis

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Renal disease in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) carries significant morbidity and mortality. Cyclophosphamide (CYC)- and mycophenolate mofetil (MMF)–based induction regimens are not ideal in terms of efficacy and toxicity. The adverse effects of CYC, such as infection risk, infertility, urotoxicity and oncogenicity, limit its use in lupus nephritis. Although MMF is non-inferior to CYC as induction therapy and has reduced gonadal toxicity and oncogenic potential, meta-analyses of clinical trials do not show a lower rate of infective and gastrointestinal complications. Tacrolimus (TAC) has recently been shown to have equal efficacy to either MMF or CYC for inducing remission of lupus nephritis. A low-dose combination of MMF and TAC appears to be more effective than intravenous CYC pulses in Chinese patients, and has potential to replace the more toxic CYC regimens in high-risk subgroups. TAC may be considered as another non-CYC alternative for induction therapy of lupus nephritis and in those with refractory disease or intolerance to CYC or MMF. TAC has no negative effect on fertility in younger women, and unlike MMF and CYC, it is safe in pregnancy. However, TAC has a narrow therapeutic window and drug level monitoring is required to ensure drug exposure and minimize acute toxicities. Current evidence for the efficacy of TAC in lupus nephritis is limited to 6 months and the incidence of renal flare after discontinuation of therapy or switching to azathioprine appears to be higher than other induction agents. Long-term data and the incidence of chronic nephrotoxicity of TAC as maintenance therapy in lupus nephritis are currently lacking and further prospective trials are needed to address these issues.

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