Purpose: To examine the corneal transplant rejection rate and the rate of graft failure subsequent to rejection in the first 2 years after endothelial keratoplasty (EK) and to compare this to background data for similar cases of penetrating keratoplasty (PK).
Methods: Anonymized data from consecutive cases of EK [deep lamellar (DLEK) or Descemet stripping (DSEK)] for Fuchs corneal endothelial dystrophy or pseudophakic bullous keratopathy operated on before August 2004 were collected in 4 participating centers. The number and timing of rejection episodes and cases of subsequent graft failure were recorded, together with the time to cessation of topical steroid medication. Two-year postoperative findings were compared with background data for similar patients undergoing PK recorded in the Swedish Corneal Transplant Registry.
Results: Rejection episodes were less frequent after EK than PK (P = 0.035). Fifteen (7.5%) of 199 EK cases had a rejection episode in the first 2 years after surgery versus 92 (13%) of 708 PK cases. Graft failure after rejection in EK may have been less frequent than in PK (P = 0.063), with only 1 (6.7%) case of rejection after EK versus 26 (28.3%) cases of rejection after PK proceeding to graft failure. A strong trend toward continued use of low-dose topical steroid medication was observed in the EK group. Eighty percent of EK patients were still taking topical steroid medication 2 years after surgery, whereas topical steroid medication had been ceased within a year of surgery in almost all PK patients in the comparator group.
Conclusions: Corneal transplant rejection is less frequent and may be less severe after EK than after PK. It is not yet clear whether these apparent differences are simply a product of relatively prolonged postoperative topical steroid cover in EK patients.