Background Therapeutic drug monitoring (TDM) of tacrolimus, based on blood concentrations, shows an imperfect correlation with the occurrence of rejection. Here, we tested whether measuring NFATc1 amplification, a member of the calcineurin pathway, is suitable for TDM of tacrolimus. Materials and methods NFATc1 amplification was monitored in T cells of kidney transplant recipients who received either tacrolimus- (n = 11) or belatacept-based (n = 10) therapy. Individual drug effects on NFATc1 amplification were studied in vitro, after spiking blood samples of healthy volunteers with either tacrolimus, belatacept or mycophenolate mofetil. Results At day 30 after transplantation, in tacrolimus-treated patients, NFATc1 amplification was inhibited in CD4+ T cells expressing the co-stimulation receptor CD28 (mean inhibition 37%; p = 0.01) and in CD8+CD28+ T cells (29% inhibition; p = 0.02), while this was not observed in CD8+CD28- T cells or belatacept-treated patients. Tacrolimus pre-dose concentrations of these patients correlated inversely with NFATc1 amplification in CD28+ T cells (rs = -0.46; p < 0.01). In vitro experiments revealed that 50 ng/ml tacrolimus affected NFATc1 amplification by 58% (mean; p = 0.02). Conclusion In conclusion, measuring NFATc1 amplification is a direct tool for monitoring biological effects of tacrolimus on T cells in whole blood samples of kidney transplant recipients. This technique has potential that requires further development before it can be applied in daily practice.

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Journal PLoS ONE
Kannegieter, N.M, Hesselink, D.A, Dieterich, M, de Graav, G.N, Kraaijeveld, R, & Baan, C.C. (2018). Analysis of NFATc1 amplification in T cells for pharmacodynamic monitoring of tacrolimus in kidney transplant recipients. PLoS ONE, 13(7). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0201113