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METHODS AND FINDINGS: To establish preclinical proof of concept, we developed two independent rat models of cirrhosis that were characterized by progressive reduction in renal blood flow and glomerular filtration rate and showed evidence of renal endothelial dysfunction. We then set out to further explore and validate our hypothesis in a phase 2 randomized open-label parallel-group study in male and female patients with alcohol-related cirrhosis and portal hypertension. Forty patients were randomized 1:1 to treatment with serelaxin intravenous (i.v.) infusion (for 60 min at 80 μg/kg/d and then 60 min at 30 μg/kg/d) or terlipressin (single 2-mg i.v. bolus), and the regional hemodynamic effects were quantified by phase contrast magnetic resonance angiography at baseline and after 120 min. The primary endpoint was the change from baseline in total renal artery blood flow.
Therapeutic targeting of renal vasoconstriction with serelaxin in the rat models increased kidney perfusion, oxygenation, and function through reduction in renal vascular resistance, reversal of endothelial dysfunction, and increased activation of the AKT/eNOS/NO signaling pathway in the kidney. In the randomized clinical study, infusion of serelaxin for 120 min increased total renal arterial blood flow by 65% (95% CI 40%, 95%; p < 0.001) from baseline. Administration of serelaxin was safe and well tolerated, with no detrimental effect on systemic blood pressure or hepatic perfusion. The clinical study’s main limitations were the relatively small sample size and stable, well-compensated population.
CONCLUSIONS: Our mechanistic findings in rat models and exploratory study in human cirrhosis suggest the therapeutic potential of selective renal vasodilation using serelaxin as a new treatment for renal dysfunction in cirrhosis, although further validation in patients with more advanced cirrhosis and renal dysfunction is required.
TRIAL REGISTRATION: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01640964