Moderator's view: The use of calcineurin inhibitors in the treatment of lupus nephritis

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Lupus nephritis (LN) is one of the most severe manifestations of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), affecting ∼50% of patients, and both renal disease and treatment-related toxicity contribute to significant morbidity and mortality. Although our understanding of the aetiopathogenesis of LN is improving, treatment still remains a challenge, with the achievement of complete remission at 1 year in <50% of patients treated with current standard of care immunosuppressive therapy; this is associated with considerable short- and long-term side effects, some of which further contribute to non-adherence. Calcineurin inhibitors (CNIs) have been successfully used in organ transplantation and there is increasing evidence that cyclosporin A (CSA), and especially tacrolimus (TAC), are also effective in the treatment of LN. Randomised controlled trials showed similar efficacy for TAC when compared with mycophenolate mofetil (MMF) and multitarget therapy, including TAC and low-dose MMF, and resulted in significantly more complete remissions and overall responses compared with intravenous cyclophosphamide (CYC). Flares are observed in up to 45% of patients with LN, and an increase in relapse rate following induction with CNIs may be an issue. Most studies on this matter have been restricted to patients from Asia, and studies in more balanced cohorts are desirable. Moreover, there is a need to understand and determine the long-term effects of CNIs on renal function, proteinuria and comorbidities, with a special focus on cardiovascular risk. In this ‘Pros and Cons’ debate, the potential benefits and disadvantages of CNIs in the treatment of LN will be critically highlighted.

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