Immunosuppressive agents for treating IgA nephropathy

IgA nephropathy is a common kidney disease that often leads to decreased kidney function and may result ultimately in kidney failure for one-third of affected people. The cause of IgA nephropathy is not known, although most people with the disease have abnormalities in their immune system. We identified 32 studies enrolling 1781 patients that met our inclusion criteria. This review found that if people with IgA nephropathy receive immunosuppressive drugs, particularly steroids, they may be less likely to develop kidney failure needing dialysis or transplantation. Few studies were available and the harms of therapy are currently not well understood. Larger placebo-controlled studies are now needed to be certain about the benefits and hazards of steroids on outcomes in IgA nephropathy and to identify which specific patients might benefit most from the treatment.

Authors' conclusions: 

The optimal management of IgAN remains uncertain although corticosteroid therapy may lower the risks of kidney disease progression and need for dialysis or transplantation. Evidence for treatment effects of immunosuppressive agents on mortality, infection, and cancer is generally sparse or low-quality and insufficient to guide clinical practice. Available RCTs are few, small, have high risk of bias - particularly selective reporting - and generally do not systematically identify treatment-related harms. Subgroup analyses to identify specific patient characteristics that might predict better response to therapy were not possible. Larger placebo-controlled studies of corticosteroid therapy or mycophenolate mofetil which are sufficiently powered to evaluate patient-relevant end points including adverse events and that examine the optimal duration of treatment are now required in populations with IgAN with a range of kidney function.

Read the full abstract...

IgA nephropathy (IgAN) is the most common glomerulonephritis world-wide and a cause of end-stage kidney disease (ESKD) in 15% to 20% of patients within 10 years and in 30% to 40% of patients within 20 years from the onset of disease. This is an update of a review first published in 2003.


To determine the benefits and harms of immunosuppression for the treatment of IgAN.

Search strategy: 

For this review update we searched the Specialised Register to 19 February 2015 through contact with the Trials Search Co-ordinator using search terms relevant to this review.

Selection criteria: 

We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and quasi-RCTs of treatment for IgAN in adults and children and that compared immunosuppressive agents with placebo, no treatment, or other immunosuppressive or non-immunosuppressive agents.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two authors independently assessed study risk of bias and extracted data for population characteristics, interventions and outcomes including mortality, infection, hospitalisation, ESKD requiring renal replacement therapy (dialysis or kidney transplantation), doubling of serum creatinine, remission of proteinuria, and end of treatment urinary protein excretion, serum creatinine, and glomerular filtration rate.

Estimates of treatment effect and hazards were summarised using random effects meta-analysis. Treatment effects were expressed as relative risk (RR) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CI) for dichotomous outcomes and mean difference (MD) and 95% CI for continuous outcomes.

Main results: 

We included 32 studies comprising 1781 participants. Risk of bias within the included studies was generally high: 22 studies (69%) did not describe the method used to generate the randomisation sequence; 24 (75%) did not describe the methods used to conceal allocation; performance bias was not reported or high in 30 studies (94%); detection bias was unclear in 31 studies (97%); attrition bias was low in 14 studies (44%), unclear in eight (25%) and high in 12 studies (38%); reporting bias was low in 21 studies (67%) and high in 10 studies (31%); and four studies received industry funding or were terminated early (13%).

Steroids lowered risks of progression to ESKD (6 studies, 341 participants: RR 0.44, 95% CI 0.25 to 0.80), and doubling of serum creatinine (6 studies, 341 participants: RR 0.45, 95% CI 0.29 to 0.69), lowered urinary protein excretion (6 studies, 263 participants: MD -0.49 g/24 h, 95% CI -0.72 to -0.25); and preserved glomerular filtration rate (4 studies, 138 participants: MD 17.87 mL/min/1.73 m2, 95% CI 4.93 to 30.82) compared to no treatment or placebo. Combining steroids plus renin-angiotensin-system (RAS) inhibitors lowered the risk of progression to ESKD (2 studies, 160 participants: RR 0.16, 95% CI 0.04 to 0.59) and reduced urinary protein excretion (1 study, 38 participants: MD -0.20 g/24 h, 95% CI -0.26 to -0.14) compared with RAS inhibitors or steroids alone. Cytotoxic agents (azathioprine) plus steroid regimens plus dipyridamole increased remission of proteinuria (1 study, 78 participants: RR 1.24, 95% CI 1.01 to 1.52) compared to steroids alone but had uncertain effects on other outcomes.

Mycophenolate mofetil plus RAS inhibitors lowered the risk of progression to ESKD (1 study, 40 participants: RR 0.22, 95% CI 0.05 to 0.90), improved remission of proteinuria (1 study, 40 participants: RR 2.67, 95% CI 1.32 to 5.39) and reduced urinary protein excretion (1 study, 40 participants: MD -1.26 g/24 h, 95% CI -1.46 to -1.06). Effects of other immunosuppressive regimens (including cyclosporin, leflunomide) were inconclusive primarily due to insufficient data from the individual studies. Subgroup analyses to determine the impact of patient characteristics on treatment effectiveness were not possible.