Early antithymocyte globulin therapy improves survival in patients with steroid-resistant acute graft-versus-host disease

Margaret L. MacMillan, Daniel J. Weisdorf, Stella M. Davies, Todd E. DeFor, Linda J. Burns, Norma K.C. Ramsay, John E. Wagner, Bruce R. Blazar

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121 Scopus citations


Second-line therapies for steroid-resistant acute GVHD have been used with limited success. We have reviewed the responses of 79 hematopoetic stem cell transplant (HSCT) patients uniformly treated from 1990-1998 with equine antithymocyte globulin (ATG) for steroid-resistant acute GVHD, defined as progression of acute GVHD after 4 days of treatment with prednisone or no improvement of acute GVHD after 7 days of treatment with prednisone. Patients received HSCT from 34 related (32 matched sibling/2 partially matched) and 45 unrelated (14 HLA-A, -B, -DRB1 matched/31 partially matched) donors. Prior to ATG therapy, severe (grade III-IV) GVHD was observed in 34 patients (43%). Organs involved included skin in 81% of patients, lower GI tract in 52%, upper GI tract in 28%, and liver in 11%. Treatment consisted of 1-5 courses (median, 2 courses) of ATG (15 mg/kg per dose bid x 5 days) given for a median of 16 days (range, 5 to 44 days) after the onset of GVHD. All patients continued to receive prednisone, 60 mg/m2 per day (or methylprednisolone IV equivalent), plus CSA (75%) or tacrolimus (4%). At day 28 of treatment, overall improvement was observed in 54% of patients; durable (≥28 days) complete response was observed in 20% of patients, and partial response was observed in 34% of patients. In multivariate analysis, patients with CML or a malignant disease other than acute leukemia had a greater likelihood of overall response than did those with nonmalignant diseases. Patients with acute skin GVHD (with or without other organ involvement) responded most frequently. Chronic GVHD developed in 51% of patients by 1 year after HSCT. One patient developed EBV lymphoproliferative disease. For the entire cohort, the probability of survival at 1 year was 32% (95% CI, 22%-42%). In multivariate analysis, factors associated with better survival included earlier onset of acute GVHD, shorter time from initial treatment for GVHD to treatment with ATG, and the use of non-T-cell-depleted stem cell grafts. These data suggest that treatment with ATG can be an active therapy, especially in patients with skin GVHD and early signs of steroid resistance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)40-46
Number of pages7
JournalBiology of Blood and Marrow Transplantation
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2002


  • ATG
  • Acute GHVD
  • Hematopoietic cell transplantation
  • Steroid resistance
  • Unrelated donor


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