Operational tolerance: Past lessons and future prospects

Josh Levitsky*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Every liver transplant (LT) center has had patients who either self-discontinue immunosuppressive (IS) therapy or are deliberately withdrawn due to a research protocol or clinical concern (ie, lymphoproliferative disorder [LPD], overwhelming infection). This is understandable because maintenance IS therapy, particularly calcineurin inhibitors (CNI), is associated with significant cost, side effects, and considerable long-term morbidity and mortality. Detrimental effects of IS therapy include increased risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, bone loss, opportunistic and community-acquired infections, and malignancy. In fact, LT recipients have among the highest rates of chronic kidney disease and associated mortality among all nonkidney solid organ recipients. This mortality is only ameliorated by undergoing a curative kidney transplant, usurping costs and valuable organ resources. The search for improved treatment algorithms includes trial and error CNI dose minimization, the use of alternative IS agents (antimetabolites, mammalian target of rapamycin [mTOR] inhibitors), or even complete CNI withdrawal. Yet those who are successful in achieving such operational tolerance (no immunosuppression and normal allograft function) are considered lucky. The vast majority of recipients will fail this approach, develop acute rejection or immune-mediated hepatitis, and require resumption of IS therapy. As such, withdrawal of IS following LT is not standard-of-care, leaving clinicians to currently maintain transplant patients on IS therapy for life. Nonetheless, the long-term complications of all IS therapies highlight the need for strategies to promote immunologic or operational tolerance. Clinically applicable biomarker assays signifying the potential for tolerance as well as tolerogenic IS conditioning are invariably needed if systematic, controlled rather than "hit or miss" approaches to withdrawal are considered. This review will provide an overview of the basic mechanisms of tolerance, particularly in relation to LT, data from previous IS withdrawal protocols and biomarker studies in tolerant recipients, and a discussion on the prospect of increasing the clinical feasibility and success of withdrawal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)222-232
Number of pages11
JournalLiver Transplantation
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Hepatology
  • Transplantation


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