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Clinical Considerations for the Use of GLP-1 Agonists Post Lung Transplantation

Robin Klasek, PharmD

Kyle Dawson, PharmD, MBA, BCPS
Houston Methodist
Houston, TX, USA

Hyperglycemia post transplantation is a relatively common complication, either due to pre-existing diabetes or new-onset diabetes after transplant (NODAT). The estimated rates of NODAT 12 months post-transplant are 28-30% in heart transplant and 6-45% for lung transplants [1-3]. This article aims to discuss pharmacotherapy considerations for a newer class of incretin mimetics, the glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) agonists, used in the management of hyperglycemia in thoracic transplant patients with focus on risk vs. benefit in lung transplant recipients.

Exposure to immunosuppressive agents, such as glucocorticoids and calcineurin inhibitors, in combination with other risk factors including older age, obesity (BMI>30), and frequent acute rejection episodes requiring treatment with high-dose steroids further increase the risk of NODAT. NODAT is associated with an increased risk of rejection, infections, and cardiovascular complications [4]. Many patients will require pharmacotherapy to manage hyperglycemia post transplantation, and this often includes insulin. Incretin mimetics, one of the latest additions to the armamentarium for the treatment of hyperglycemia and NODAT, are now available as an addition to insulin therapy to lower insulin requirements or as monotherapy in place of insulin [5]. Currently five agents in the GLP-1 agonist pharmacological class are available worldwide; albiglutide, dulaglutide, exenatide, liraglutide and lixisenatide. All five agents are peptides that need to be administrated by subcutaneous injection in various frequencies ranging from twice daily immediate release exenatide to once weekly albiglutide, dulaglutide and extended release exenatide.

GLP-1 agonists are less likely to cause hypoglycemia as a monotherapy than insulin or sulfonylureas, but they have similar rates of hypoglycemia when combined with these agents. GLP-1 agonists mimic the physiological profile of insulin by enhancing glucose-dependent insulin release and inhibiting secretion of glucagon [6]. GLP-1 agonists reportedly lower A1C levels in non-transplant individuals by up to 2% and promote weight loss of as much as 4 kg in 24-32 week-long trials [7]. In addition to lowering A1C and promoting weight loss, GLP-1 agonists also promote satiety in the central nervous system and slow down gastric emptying by relaxing the proximal stomach and inhibiting both antral and duodenal motility [8-12]. In healthy subjects, GLP-1 agonist use causes increased retention of solids in the distal stomach at 100 minutes from 29% to 58% and frequently produced gastroparesis, without regards to its dose [13].

Gastroparesis is a complication of lung transplantation, with a prevalence of 6-24% [14,15]. It is thought to be attributed to intraoperative vagal nerve damage, pharmacological agents, and preexisting lung disease [16]. Gastroparesis may play a significant role in Bronchiolitis Obliterans Syndrome (BOS) through an exacerbating effect on gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) leading to microaspiration and secondary activation of the innate immune system [17]. Bronchiolitis Obliterans Syndrome is a common cause of mortality and morbidity in lung transplantation, with a five-year patient survival from onset of 30-40% [18].

To our knowledge, no data on the use of GLP-1 agonists and gastroparesis complications in lung transplantation have been published at present. GLP-1 agonists increase the risk of gastroparesis in healthy individuals and we can reasonably expect this to affect some thoracic transplant patients as well. Given the role that gastroparesis may play in the development of serious, long-term sequelae, caution should be exercised with this new class of agents. As these agents gain popularity, prescribers should be aware of the side-effect profile before their initiation in lung transplant recipients and consider possible risks vs. benefits of therapy. ■

Disclosure Statement: The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.


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