Sirolimus (Rapammune®, rapamycin, RAPA) is a potent immunosuppressive drug that reduces renal transplant rejection. Hyperlipidemia is a significant side effect of sirolimus treatment, and frequently leads to cardiovascular disease. This study was undertaken to determine the repeatability, reversibility, and dose dependence of the plasma lipid and apolipoprotein altering effects of sirolimus, and to elucidate the mechanism by which sirolimus induces hypertriglyceridemia in some renal transplant patients. Six patients with renal allografts maintained on cyclosporine A and prednisone were selected on the basis of their previous hyperlipidemic response to short term (14 days) sirolimus administration. For longer-term treatment, each patient was started on 10 mg/day sirolimus and continued as tolerated for 42 days to reinduce hyperlipidemia. Timed blood samples were analyzed for lipid, apolipoprotein, and sirolimus levels. During sirolimus administration, mean total plasma cholesterol increased from 214 mg/dl to 322 mg/dl (+50%; range 25-92%); LDL-cholesterol levels followed a similar pattern. Mean triglyceride level rose from 227 to 432 mg/dl (+95%; range 9-254%). ApoB-100 concentration rose from 124 to 160 mg/dl (+28%; P < 0.05). ApoC-III level increased from 28.9 to 55.5 mg/dl, +92%; (P < 0.013). These lipid and apolipoprotein changes were found to be repeatable, reversible, and dose dependent. [13C4]palmitate metabolic studies in four patients with hypertriglyceridemia indicated that the free fatty acid pool was expanded by sirolimus treatment (mean = 42.3%). Incorporation of [13C4]palmitate into triglycerides of VLDL, IDL, and LDL was decreased 38.3%, 42,1%, and 38.4%, respectively, by sirolimus treatment of these patients. These results suggest that sirolimus alters the insulin signaling pathway so as to increase adipose tissue lipase activity and/or decrease lipoprotein lipase activity, resulting in increased hepatic synthesis of triglyceride, increased secretion of VLDL, and increased hypertriglyceridemia.
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