BACKGROUND: Although the efficacy of tacrolimus for inducing remission of refractory ulcerative colitis (UC) is established, its efficacy for maintaining remission of UC has not been evaluated. AIM: The aim of this study was to evaluate the efficacy of tacrolimus compared with thiopurines for maintaining remission in patients with refractory UC. METHODS: Twenty-four UC patients treated with tacrolimus and 34 treated with thiopurines to maintain remission were enrolled as the tacrolimus group and the thiopurine group, respectively. In the tacrolimus group, 82.8% of the patients were treated with tacrolimus for induction of the remission, whereas 70% of the patients in the thiopurine group were induced remission with either corticosteroid or cytapheresis. Proportions of patients who kept steroid-free remission between the tacrolimus and the thiopurine groups were compared. Maintenance of remission using tacrolimus or thiopurines was defined as no need for other therapies other than aminosalicylates without relapse for at least 3 months. Secondarily, to determine whether the response to thiopurines affects the long-term efficacy of tacrolimus maintenance therapy, the overall cumulative relapse-free survival based on the Kaplan-Meier method was estimated in thiopurine-naive or thiopurine-intolerant patients and thiopurine-refractory ones in the tacrolimus group. RESULTS: Remission was successfully maintained in 17 patients (70.8%) of the tacrolimus group, and 28 patients (82.4%) of the thiopurine group. The overall cumulative relapse-free survival of thiopurine-naive or thiopurine-intolerant patients in the tacrolimus group was similar to that in the thiopurine group, and significantly higher than that of thiopurine- refractory patients in the tacrolimus group. CONCLUSION: Maintenance therapy with tacrolimus for patients with UC could be considered an alternative to thiopurine therapy.
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