Successful cardiac transplantation requires suppression of rejection, and endomyocardial biopsy is generally used to quantify this and guide immunotherapy. Biopsy, however, is an invasive, costly, cardiac catheterization with repetition limited. Since rejection requires lymphocyte activation, an alternative method of assessing rejection dynamics might be ELISA determination of soluble interleukin-2 receptor (sIL-2R) levels since induction of the interleukin-2 ligand and its receptor is required. Reports suggest that sIL-2R levels rise during kidney, liver, and heart-lung allograft rejection, and heart recipients have an adverse prognosis if sIL-2R is elevated postoperatively. It is unclear, however, if serial measurements or single determinations are sufficient or if change from a baseline assessment is important. The purpose of this study was to determine if an isolated sIL-2R level after heart transplant predicted endomyocardial biopsy score at that moment. To do this, we prospectively followed 60 consecutive patients after orthotopic heart transplant and correlated 479 endomyocardial biopsy scores (McAllister scale 0-10) with matched sIL-2R levels. Regression analysis demonstrated minimal relationship between sIL-2R level and biopsy score (r=.11, r2=.01, P=.009). When the maximum sIL-2R level for each individual patient was compared with the matched biopsy score, regression analysis revealed r=.04, r2=.001, P=.8. Likewise, when all biopsy scores and sIL-2R levels for each patient were meaned, analysis showed r=.14, r2=.02, P=.26. Thus in heart transplant patients, there is poor correlation between an isolated biopsy score and matched sIL-2R level. However, when mean ± SEM sIL-2R was determined for severe rejection (score 7-10) and compared with sIL-2R for all other grades, it was significantly higher (1600±257 vs. 423±57 U/ml; P=.012). Still, the sensitivity, specificity, and predictive value of an sIL-2R level above 1000 U/ml predicting severe rejection was only 52%, 63%, and 8%. It would be difficult, therefore, to use a single sIL-2R determination after heart transplant to foretell the endomyocardial biopsy score. Serial measurements or quantification of a change in sIL-2R level from baseline might be more predictive of rejection severity.
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