Immunosuppressive drugs currently available for the treatment of autoimmune diseases display a narrow therapeutic window between efficacy and toxic side effects. The use of combinations of drugs that have a synergistic effect may expand this window and reduce the risk of toxicity. We evaluated the combination effect of rapamycin (Rapa) and cyclosporin A (CsA) in an autoimmune disease model of the eye. The dose-effect relationship of Rapa with CsA was measured in vitro on the inhibition of proliferation of retinal S-Ag-primed lymphocytes. A median effect analysis was performed and a combination index (CI) calculated for 50% inhibition of proliferation. Rapa and CsA were markedly synergistic over a wide dose range (lowest CI = 0.31). Calculated dose reduction factors indicated that Rapa could be reduced nine-fold and CsA reduced five-fold when these drugs were used in combination. These reduced doses were tested in vivo for the treatment of experimental autoimmune uveoretinitis (EAU). Twelve of 15 rats treated with CsA, 2 mg/kg/day, developed EAU with a median severity of 2.5. Fourteen of 15 rats treated with Rapa, 0.01 mg/kg/day, developed EAU with a median severity of 3.25. Complete inhibition of EAU was achieved in all 15 animals treated with the combination of Rapa and CsA (combined vs CsA alone, p < 0.0002; combined vs Rapa alone, p < 0.00001). The demonstrated synergistic relationship between Rapa and CsA will allow the use of reduced doses of each drug to achieve a therapeutic effect. The use of lower doses may reduce the toxicity of these drugs for the treatment of autoimmune uveitis.

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