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The increasing success of clinical liver transplantation has brought rejection to the forefront as a cause of morbidity and graft loss. The relationship of immunosuppressive drug doses and levels to acute and chronic rejection remains a matter of debate. The effect of blood CsA levels and drug doses on the incidence of acute and chronic rejection and the impact of acute rejection episodes on the occurrence of chronic rejection were studied in 146 grafts in 132 patients. These patients were transplanted in the 4-year period from June 1989 using CsA-based immunosuppression (CsA, azathioprine, prednisolone). Liver grafts in patients maintained on median CsA levels (whole blood, trough level) of >175 [mu]g/L in the first 28 days post-transplant had a significantly lower incidence of chronic rejection (2 out of 49 vs. 22 out of 97; P=0.002). There was no significant difference in incidence of graft loss due to fatal sepsis (6% vs. 5%) or nephrotoxicity between the high and low CsA level groups. The overall graft loss rate was lower in the higher CsA level group (22% vs. 37%). The total doses of the individual drugs did not correlate with the incidence of acute or chronic rejection. Although the occurrence of acute rejection itself did not determine later chronic rejection, late occurrence (P<0.00001) and multiple episodes (two or more; P=0.0002) of acute rejection were significant risk factors for the occurrence of chronic rejection. We conclude that to minimize graft loss to rejection, CsA levels should be maintained at greater than 175 [mu]g/L in the early posttransplant period, and late and recurrent episodes of acute rejection should be prevented.

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