Immunosuppressive treatment for focal segmental glomerulosclerosis in adults

What is the issue?

Nephrotic syndrome is a condition where the kidneys leak protein from the blood into the urine. Focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) defined on kidney biopsy is an uncommon cause of nephrotic syndrome disease but it progresses to kidney failure in about half of all cases. It can be divided into three groups - primary FSGS (thought to be due to a factor circulating in the blood that damages the kidneys), genetic (secondary to mutations in one or more genes), and secondary to other causes, including certain infections. Treatments aim to reduce the amount of protein in the urine completely or partly to increase the time before kidney failure develops. 

What did we do?

We looked at all randomised controlled trials (RCTs) which examined therapy with prednisone or other agents which affect the immune system such as cyclosporin and mycophenolate mofetil and other agents with or without steroid therapy. 

What did we find?

We found 15 studies involving 553 participants. In five studies cyclosporin was compared with different treatments. Combining four studies (231 participants) showed that cyclosporin was more effective than these other treatments in achieving complete remission of nephrotic syndrome. The studies were too small and lasted for too short a time to determine if cyclosporin reduced the risk of kidney failure. Nine small studies examined different medicines that suppress the body's immune system. None of these treatments reduced the amount of protein in the urine.


We found limited information that cyclosporin may reduce the amount of protein in the urine in some people with FSGS but the data are uncertain because the studies enrolled too few participants. We need new agents for the treatment of FSGS with nephrotic syndrome to prevent kidney failure.

Authors' conclusions: 

No RCTs, which evaluated corticosteroids, were identified although the KDIGO guidelines recommend corticosteroids as the first treatment for adults with FSGS. The studies identified included participants with steroid-resistant FSGS. Treatment with cyclosporin for at least six months was more likely to achieve complete remission of proteinuria compared with other treatments but there was considerable imprecision due to few studies and small participant numbers. In future studies of existing or new interventions, the investigators must clearly define the populations included in the study to provide appropriate recommendations for patients with primary, genetic or secondary FSGS.

Read the full abstract...

Focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) can be separated into primary, genetic or secondary causes. Primary disease results in nephrotic syndrome while genetic and secondary forms may be associated with asymptomatic proteinuria or with nephrotic syndrome. Overall only about 20% of patients with FSGS experience a partial or complete remission of nephrotic syndrome with treatment. FSGS progresses to kidney failure in about half of the cases. This is an update of a review first published in 2008.


To assess the benefits and harms of immunosuppressive and non-immunosuppressive treatment regimens in adults with FSGS.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Kidney and Transplant Register of Studies to 21 June 2021 through contact with the Information Specialist using search terms relevant to this review. Studies in the Register are identified through searches of CENTRAL, MEDLINE, and EMBASE, conference proceedings, the International Clinical Trials Register (ICTRP) Search Portal and

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and quasi-RCTs of any intervention for FSGS in adults were included. Studies comparing different types, routes, frequencies, and duration of immunosuppressive agents and non-immunosuppressive agents were assessed.

Data collection and analysis: 

At least two authors independently assessed study quality and extracted data. Statistical analyses were performed using the random-effects model and results were expressed as a risk ratio (RR) for dichotomous outcomes, or mean difference (MD) for continuous data with 95% confidence intervals (CI). Confidence in the evidence was assessed using the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) approach.

Main results: 

Fifteen studies (560 participants) were included. No studies specifically evaluating corticosteroids compared with placebo or supportive therapy were identified. Studies evaluated participants with steroid-resistant FSGS. Five studies (240 participants) compared cyclosporin with or without prednisone with different comparators (no specific treatment, prednisone, methylprednisolone, mycophenolate mofetil (MMF), dexamethasone). Three small studies compared monoclonal antibodies (adalimumab, fresolimumab) with other agents or placebo. Six single small studies compared rituximab with tacrolimus, cyclosporin plus valsartan with cyclosporin alone, MMF with prednisone, chlorambucil plus methylprednisolone and prednisone with no specific treatment, different regimens of dexamethasone and CCX140-B (an antagonist of the chemokine receptor CCR2) with placebo. The final study (109 participants) compared sparsentan, a dual inhibitor of endothelin Type A receptor and of the angiotensin II Type 1 receptor, with irbesartan. In the risk of bias assessment, seven and five studies were at low risk of bias for sequence generation and allocation concealment, respectively. Four studies were at low risk of performance bias and 14 studies were at low risk of detection bias. Thirteen, six and five studies were at low risk of attrition bias, reporting bias and other bias, respectively.

Of five studies evaluating cyclosporin, four could be included in our meta-analyses (231 participants). Cyclosporin with or without prednisone compared with different comparators may increase the likelihood of complete remission (RR 2.31, 95% CI 1.13 to 4.73; I² = 1%; low certainty evidence) and of complete or partial remission (RR 1.64, 95% CI 1.10 to 2.44; I² = 19%) but not of partial remission (RR 1.36, 95% CI 0.78 to 2.39, I² = 22%). In Individual studies, cyclosporin with prednisone versus prednisone may increase the likelihood of partial (49 participants: RR 7.96, 95% CI 1.09 to 58.15) or complete or partial remission (49 participants: RR 8.85, 95% CI 1.22 to 63.92) but not of complete remission. The remaining individual comparisons may make little or no difference to the likelihood of complete remission, partial remission or complete or partial remission compared with no treatment, methylprednisolone, MMF, or dexamethasone. Individual study data and combined data showed that cyclosporin may make little or no difference to the outcomes of chronic kidney disease or kidney failure. It is uncertain whether cyclosporin compared with these comparators in individual or combined analyses makes any difference to the outcomes of hypertension or infection.

MMF compared with prednisone may make little or no difference to the likelihood of complete remission (33 participants: RR 1.05, 95% CI 0.58 to 1.88; low certainty evidence), partial remission, complete or partial remission, glomerular filtration rate, or infection. It is uncertain whether other interventions make any difference to outcomes as the certainty of the evidence is very low. It is uncertain whether sparsentan reduces proteinuria to a greater extent than irbesartan.