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BACKGROUND: Conversion to sirolimus from calcineurin inhibitor- (CNI), azathioprine- (AZA) and mycophenolate-based regimens reduces the risk of development of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin (SCC) in kidney transplant recipients (KTRs). Sirolimus conversion may also be protective by permitting beneficial changes in immune phenotype. It is not known how sirolimus will affect immune phenotype in KTRs with SCC. METHODS: Thirty-two KTRs with SCC were enrolled into this single-blinded randomized study and 13 KTRs randomized to sirolimus (4-10 ng/mL) and prednisolone 5 mg/day. RESULTS: Six-month post conversion to sirolimus FOXP3(+) CD127(low)CD25(high)CD69(-), the number of T cells (putative Treg) increased significantly (P = 0.008). Natural killer (NK) and CD56(bright) NK cells also increased significantly (P = 0.039 and 0.02). T-cell number only significantly increased in those KTRs where CNI was ceased as part of the conversion to mammalian target of rapamycin inhibitors (mTORi's) (P = 0.031) implying CNI cessation rather than mTORi initiation induced an increase in T-cell number. Increases in the NK cell number was only significant in those KTRs where AZA was ceased (P = 0.040), implying AZA cessation rather than mTORi initiation caused the NK cell number to increase. At 6 months, sirolimus conversion reduces new SCC/year, rate ratio 0.49 (95%CI: 0.15-1.63), P = 0.276. On therapy analysis and intention-to-treat analysis over 24 months, the rate ratios were 0.84 and 0.87, respectively, and did not reach significance. CONCLUSIONS: Conversion to mTORi from CNI may reveal a pre-existing high Treg phenotype by unmasking CNI inhibition of FOXP3 expression. Cessation of AZA leads to increased NK cell number. High FOXP3(+) T-cell number on conversion to mTORi may predict those KTRs who continue to accrue SCC.

Original publication




Journal article


Nephrol Dial Transplant

Publication Date





462 - 465


Aged, Aged, 80 and over, Azathioprine, CD56 Antigen, Calcineurin Inhibitors, Carcinoma, Squamous Cell, Female, Forkhead Transcription Factors, Humans, Immune System, Immunosuppressive Agents, Kidney Transplantation, Killer Cells, Natural, Male, Middle Aged, Phenotype, Risk Factors, Single-Blind Method, Sirolimus, Skin Neoplasms, T-Lymphocytes, TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases, Transplantation