Steroid use after liver transplantation (LT) has been associated with diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, obesity, and hepatitis C (HCV) recurrence. We performed meta-analysis and meta-regression of 30 publications representing 19 randomized trials that compared steroid-free with steroid-based immunosuppression (IS). There were no differences in death, graft loss, and infection. Steroid-free recipients demonstrated a trend toward reduced hypertension [relative risk (RR) 0.84, P = 0.08], and statistically significant decreases in cholesterol (standard mean difference -0.41, P < 0.001) and cytomegalovirus (RR 0.52, P = 0.001). In studies where steroids were replaced by another IS agent, the risks of diabetes (RR 0.29, P < 0.001), rejection (RR 0.68, P = 0.03), and severe rejection (RR 0.37, P = 0.001) were markedly lower in steroid-free arms. In studies in which steroids were not replaced, rejection rates were higher in steroid-free arms (RR 1.31, P = 0.02) and reduction of diabetes was attenuated (RR 0.74, P = 0.2). HCV recurrence was lower with steroid avoidance and, although no individual trial reached statistical significance, meta-analysis demonstrated this important effect (RR 0.90, P = 0.03). However, we emphasize the heterogeneity of trials performed to date and, as such, do not recommend basing clinical guidelines on our conclusions. We believe that a large, multicenter trial will better define the role of steroid-free regimens in LT.
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