Management of graft-versus-host disease in paediatric bone marrow transplant recipients

Marco Zecca, Franco Locatelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We discuss clinical strategies for the prophylaxis and treatment of both acute and chronic graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) with particular attention to children. Grades II to IV acute GVHD occur in 10 to 50% of patients given an allogeneic transplantation of haemopoietic stem cells (HSCT) from a genotypically HLA-identical donor. A significantly higher incidence and severity of the disease is reported in patients receiving transplants from partially matched family donors or unrelated volunteers. Younger individuals or patients receiving HSCT from younger donors develop GVHD less frequently than do older recipients. Severe acute GVHD is characterised by a significant decrease in survival probability, even though the graft-versus-leukaemia activity associated with both acute and chronic GVHD may reduce the risk of leukaemia relapse. Prophylaxis of acute GVHD usually consists of in vivo post-grafting immunosuppression with cyclosporin alone or in combination with methotrexate; methotrexate alone can be considered in leukaemia patients with a high risk of relapse. In recent years, tacrolimus is increasingly being used instead of cyclosporin, alone or in combination with methotrexate. In vitro T cell depletion in paediatric patients is usually reserved for those with transplants from partially matched family donors or unrelated volunteers. The treatment of patients with grades II to IV acute GVHD should be immediate and aggressive, as the quality and duration of the response directly correlates with survival. The overall response rate to treatment is often unsatisfactory, ranging from 40 to 50% of cases. First-line treatment usually consists of corticosteroids. In patients not responding to corticosteroids, antilymphocyte globulin and monoclonal antibodies directed towards lymphocytes and/or cytokines produced during GVHD are employed, but with variable success. Patients experiencing acute GVHD are also prone to develop chronic GVHD, whose classical treatment is based on the use of cyclosporin and corticosteroids. More recently, encouraging results in the treatment of patients with chronic GVHD have been reported with the use of extracorporeal photochemotherapy. Other drugs, such as ursodeoxycholic acid, etretinate and clofazimine, are under evaluation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-55
Number of pages27
JournalPediatric Drugs
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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