Immunosuppressive drugs orĀ immunosuppressive agents are drugs that inhibit or prevent activity of the immune system.

What do immunosuppressants do?

1. Prevent the rejection of transplanted organs and tissues (e.g., bone marrow, heart, kidney, liver)

2. Treat autoimmune diseases or diseases that are most likely of autoimmune origin (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, myasthenia gravis, systemic lupus erythematosus, sarcoidosis, focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, Crohn's disease, Behcet's Disease, pemphigus, and ulcerative colitis)

3. Treat some other non-autoimmune inflammatory diseases (e.g., long term allergic asthma control)

4. Treat some other non-autoimmune inflammatory diseases (e.g., long term allergic asthma control)

A common side-effect of many immunosuppressive drugs is immunodeficiency, because the majority of them act non-selectively, resulting in increased susceptibility to infections and decreased cancer immunosurveillance. There are also other side-effects, such as hypertension, dyslipidemia, hyperglycemia, peptic ulcers, lipodystrophy, moon face, liver and kidney injury. The immunosuppressive drugs also interact with other medicines and affect their metabolism and action. Actual or suspected immunosuppressive agents can be evaluated in terms of their effects on lymphocyte subpopulations in tissues using immunohistochemistry.

Immunosuppressive drugs can be classified into five groups:

  • glucocorticoids
  • cytostatics
  • antibodies
  • drugs acting on immunophilins
  • other drugs.

Immunosuppression involves an act that reduces the activation or efficacy of the immune system. Some portions of the immune system itself have immuno-suppressive effects on other parts of the immune system, and immunosuppression may occur as an adverse reaction to the treatment of other conditions.
In general, deliberately induced immunosuppression is performed to prevent the body from rejecting an organ transplant, treating graft-versus-host disease after a bone marrow transplant, or for the treatment of auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or Crohn's disease. This is typically done using drugs but may involve surgery (splenectomy), plasmapharesis, or radiation.


Sources: Fimmel, S; Zouboulis CC (2005).


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