Subclinical rejection (SCR) has been variably associated with reduced graft survival, development and progression of interstitial fibrosis/tubular atrophy and chronic allograft nephropathy, but data are controversial concerning SCR treatment in terms of graft survival improvement. In this single-center retrospective study, we enrolled 174 adult kidney transplant recipients with a protocol biopsy performed at 30 days after transplantation to evaluate the incidence rate and risk factors for early SCR and its impact on 10-year graft survival. Five patients showed primary non function and were excluded. Among 159/169 (94.08 %) patients with stable graft function who underwent protocol biopsy, 17 (10.7 %) showed signs of SCR and were treated with low-dose intravenous (i.v.) steroids. Ten patients showed functional impairment, 8 (4.73 %) resulting as acute rejection. At multivariate analysis, donor age [odds ratio (OR) 1.04, 95 % confidence interval (CI) 1.01–1.09], and delayed graft function (DGF) (OR 1.08, 95 % CI 1.03–1.12) were significantly associated with SCR. The 10-year graft survival rate in the SCR group was similar to that in the normal-findings group (76.5 vs. 74.9 % respectively; p = 0.61). At multivariate Cox regression, acute [hazard ratio (HR) 5.22, 95 % CI 1.70–16.01], but not sub-clinical, rejection was independently associated with long-term graft failure. In conclusion, early protocol biopsy is a useful and safe tool to detect early SCR which seems not to affect the long-term survival. We suggest that this could be, probably, linked to early SCR treatment with low dose i.v. steroids.
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