Pharmacodynamic Monitoring of Tacrolimus-Based Immunosuppression in CD14+ Monocytes After Kidney Transplantation

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Background:Monocytes significantly contribute to ischemia-reperfusion injury and allograft rejection after kidney transplantation. However, the knowledge about the effects of immunosuppressive drugs on monocyte activation is limited. Conventional pharmacokinetic methods for immunosuppressive drug monitoring are not cell type–specific. In this study, phosphorylation of 3 signaling proteins was measured to determine the pharmacodynamic effects of immunosuppression on monocyte activation in kidney transplant patients.Methods:Blood samples from 20 kidney transplant recipients were monitored before and during the first year after transplantation. All patients received induction therapy with basiliximab, followed by tacrolimus (TAC), mycophenolate mofetil, and prednisolone maintenance therapy. TAC whole-blood predose concentrations were determined using an antibody-conjugated magnetic immunoassay. Samples were stimulated with phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA)/ionomycin, and phosphorylation of p38MAPK, ERK, and Akt in CD14+ monocytes was quantified by phospho-specific flow cytometry.Results:Phosphorylation of p38MAPK and Akt in monocytes of immunosuppressed recipients was lower after 360 days compared with before transplantation in the unstimulated samples [mean reduction in median fluorescence intensity 36%; range −28% to 77% for p-p38MAPK and 20%; range −22% to 53% for p-Akt; P < 0.05]. P-ERK was only decreased at day 4 after transplantation (mean inhibition 23%; range −52% to 73%; P < 0.05). At day 4, when the highest whole-blood predose TAC concentrations were measured, p-p38MAPK and p-Akt, but not p-ERK, correlated inversely with TAC (rs = −0.65; P = 0.01 and rs = −0.58; P = 0.03, respectively).Conclusions:Immunosuppressive drug combination therapy partially inhibits monocyte activation pathways after kidney transplantation. This inhibition can be determined by phospho-specific flow cytometry, which enables the assessment of the pharmacodynamic effects of immunosuppressive drugs in a cell type–specific manner.

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