Rabbit anti-thymocyte globulin (rATG)-based immunosuppression induction is being increasingly used in liver transplantation (LT) in conjunction with steroid-free protocols to delay the initiation of calcineurin inhibitors. This study reports a single-center comparison of transplant outcomes and complications in 3 immunosuppression eras. Data were obtained retrospectively from a center research database, and the analysis included LT patients from 2001 to 2008. The immunosuppression consisted of rATG induction in 3 doses (6 mg/kg in all): (1) the first dose was administered perioperatively [the rabbit anti-thymocyte globulin in the operating room (rATG-OR) era]; (2) the first dose was delayed until 48 hours after transplantation [the rabbit anti-thymocyte globulin after a delay (rATG-D) era]; or (3) the first dose was delayed until 48 hours after transplantation, and a single dose of rituximab was added 72 hours after transplantation [the rabbit anti-thymocyte globulin after a delay plus rituximab (rATG-D-Ritux) era]. The initial maintenance immunosuppression was tacrolimus monotherapy, which was started on postoperative day 2. There were 166 patients (16%) in the rATG-OR era, 259 patients (26%) in the rATG-D era, and 588 patients (58%) in the rATG-D-Ritux era (1013 patients in all). Demographically, the latter eras were characterized by higher recipient and donor ages; greater percentages of liver-kidney transplants, hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), donation after cardiac death (DCD), and imported organs; and shorter graft ischemia times. There were no significant differences between the 3 immunosuppression groups in unadjusted patient survival 3 and 5 years after transplantation (80% and 75% for the rATG-OR era, 75% and 67% for the rATG-D era, and 79% and 71% for the rATG-D-Ritux era, P = 0.15). The 5-year survival rates for patients with hepatitis C virus (HCV) and HCC were 65% and 68%, respectively. The factors included in the Cox regression model for patient death included the Model for End-Stage Liver Disease score [hazard ratio (HR) = 1.03, P = 0.001], HCV (HR = 1.28, P = 0.04), donor age (HR = 1.01, P = 0.001), recipient age (HR = 1.01, P = 0.05), and DCD (HR = 1.55, P = 0.11). rATG-based induction immunosuppression can be safely used in adult LT recipients with excellent survival and low rejection rates and without increases in immunosuppression-related side effects.
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