The Role of Pharmacogenetics in the Disposition of and Response to Tacrolimus in Solid Organ Transplantation

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The calcineurin inhibitor tacrolimus is the backbone of immunosuppressive drug therapy after solid organ transplantation. Tacrolimus is effective in preventing acute rejection but has considerable toxicity and displays marked inter-individual variability in its pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics. The genetic basis of these phenomena is reviewed here. With regard to its pharmacokinetic variability, a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in cytochrome P450 (CYP) 3A5 (6986A > G) has been consistently associated with tacrolimus dose requirement. Patients expressing CYP3A5 (those carrying the A nucleotide, defined as the *1 allele) have a dose requirement that is around 50 % higher than non-expressers (those homozygous for the G nucleotide, defined as the *3 allele). A randomised controlled study in kidney transplant recipients has demonstrated that a CYP3A5 genotype-based approach to tacrolimus dosing leads to more patients reaching the target concentration early after transplantation. However, no improvement of clinical outcomes (rejection incidence, toxicity) was observed, which may have been the result of the design of this particular study. In addition to CYP3A5 genotype, other genetic variants may also contribute to the variability in tacrolimus pharmacokinetics. Among these, the CYP3A4*22 and POR*28 SNPs are the most promising. Individuals carrying the CYP3A4*22 T-variant allele have a lower tacrolimus dose requirement than individuals with the CYP3A4*22 CC genotype and this effect appears to be independent of CYP3A5 genotype status. Individuals carrying the POR*28 T-variant allele have a higher tacrolimus dose requirement than POR*28 CC homozygotes but this association was only found in CYP3A5-expressing individuals. Other, less well-defined SNPs have been inconsistently associated with tacrolimus dose requirement. It is envisaged that in the future, algorithms incorporating clinical, demographic and genetic variables will be developed that will aid clinicians with the determination of the tacrolimus starting dose for an individual transplant recipient. Such an approach may limit early tacrolimus under-exposure and toxicity. With regard to tacrolimus pharmacodynamics, no strong genotype-phenotype relationships have been identified. Certain SNPs associate with rejection risk but these observations await replication. Likewise, the genetic basis of tacrolimus-induced toxicity remains unclarified. SNPs in the genes encoding for the drug transporter ABCB1 and the CYP3A enzymes may relate to chronic nephrotoxicity but findings have been inconsistent. No genetic markers reliably predict new-onset diabetes mellitus after transplantation, hypertension or neurotoxicity. The CYP3A5*1 SNP is currently the most promising biomarker for tailoring tacrolimus treatment. However, before CYP3A5 genotyping is incorporated into the routine clinical care of transplant recipients, prospective clinical trials are needed to determine whether such a strategy improves patient outcomes. The role of pharmacogenetics in tacrolimus pharmacodynamics should be explored further by the study of intra-lymphocyte and tissue tacrolimus concentrations.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)123-139
Number of pages17
JournalClinical Pharmacokinetics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Research programs

  • EMC MM-01-25-01
  • EMC MM-04-39-05
  • EMC OR-01-34-01

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