Immunomonitoring of Tacrolimus in Healthy Volunteers: The First Step from PK- to PD-Based Therapeutic Drug Monitoring?

In 't Veld AE, Grievink HW, Saghari M, Stuurman FE, de Kam ML, de Vries APJ, de Winter BCM, Burggraaf J, Cohen AF, Moerland M

Therapeutic drug monitoring is routinely performed to maintain optimal tacrolimus concentrations in kidney transplant recipients. Nonetheless, toxicity and rejection still occur within an acceptable concentration-range. To have a better understanding of the relationship between tacrolimus dose, tacrolimus concentration, and its effect on the target cell, we developed functional immune tests for the quantification of the tacrolimus effect. Twelve healthy volunteers received a single dose of tacrolimus, after which intracellular and whole blood tacrolimus concentrations were measured and were related to T cell functionality. A significant correlation was found between tacrolimus concentrations in T cells and whole blood concentrations (r = 0.71, = 0.009), while no correlation was found between tacrolimus concentrations in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) and whole blood (r = 0.35, = 0.27). Phytohemagglutinin (PHA) induced the production of IL-2 and IFNγ, as well as the inhibition of CD71 and CD154 expression on T cells at 1.5 h post-dose, when maximum tacrolimus levels were observed. Moreover, the in vitro tacrolimus effect of the mentioned markers corresponded with the ex vivo effect after dosing. In conclusion, our results showed that intracellular tacrolimus concentrations mimic whole blood concentrations, and that PHA-induced cytokine production (IL-2 and IFNγ) and activation marker expression (CD71 and CD154) are suitable readout measures to measure the immunosuppressive effect of tacrolimus on the T cell.