Data suggest a large variability in the effectiveness of the orally active iron chelator, deferiprone, in inducing a sustained decrease in body iron to concentrations compatible with the avoidance of complications from iron overload. We analyzed 19 patients with thalassemia major who were undergoing long-term therapy with deferiprone (75 mg/kg/day every 8 hours). In seven of the 19 patients, hepatic iron concentration had been reduced or maintained at less than 7 mg/g of dry weight liver tissue, associated with no evidence of iron-induced toxicity (group A). In the remaining 12, hepatic iron concentration had either stabilized at higher than 7 mg/g of dry weight liver tissue, or increased to such concentrations during therapy with deferiprone (group B). We studied in these patients determinants that may explain such variability, including initial hepatic iron concentrations, compliance, transfusion index, pharmacokinetic characteristics of deferiprone, and plasma vitamin C status. Patients in group B showed significantly decreased plasma vitamin C concentrations compared with those in group A, who demonstrated normal levels (0.04 mg/dl [0.04-0.19 mg/dl] and 0.62 mg/day [0.44-1.05 mg/day], respectively; p = 0.02). A significant difference in apparent volume of distribution (Vd/F) had developed between the groups over time, with a higher Vd/F in group B (1.66 [0.681, group A] and 3.16 [0.811, group B]; p = 0.006). Group B had started with hepatic iron concentrations that were significantly higher than those of group A, a difference that became more pronounced over time. In the initial analysis, serum ferritin concentrations were also higher in group B. The two groups did not differ in the remaining factors. The initial hepatic iron concentrations predicted the slope of change in this value. Regression analysis suggested that patients with initial hepatic iron concentration of less than or equal to 7.22 mg/g of dry weight liver tissue are unlikely to further decrease while taking deferiprone 75 mg/kg/day. Vitamin C deficiency developed in patients in group B over time. Vitamin C is an important biologic cofactor that plays a role in the distribution of iron. The trend of increase in Vd/F of deferiprone over time may imply a compartment shift of iron stores to one less accessed by deferiprone. This study confirmed the effectiveness of deferiprone in heavily iron-loaded patients and provided evidence that its effectiveness decreases in proportion to liver iron load.
Division of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology and Population Health Science Program, The Hospital for Sick Children, and Department of Pediatrics, Pharmacology, Pharmacy, and Medicine, The University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Received August 12, 1998; accepted October 6, 1998.
Address correspondence and reprint requests to Gideon Koren, Division of Clinical Pharmacology/Toxicology, The Hospital for Sick Children, 555 University Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5G 1X8.