Leflunomide is an isoxazole derivative that has the ability to prevent acute rejection of cardiac, renal, and skin transplants in strongly rejecting rat models. Furthermore, leflunomide is able to interact synergistically with CsA to inhibit allograft rejection and also reverse ongoing allograft rejection. In vitro studies suggest that the mechanism of action of leflunomide is via an interruption of cytokine signaling in T cells. This study defines the ability of leflunomide to prevent and reverse rejection of concordant xenografts. One hundred nine adult Lewis rats in 13 groups received abdominal heterotopic cardiac transplants from Golden Syrian hamsters. The xenograft survived 3.9 +/-0.3 days without treatment. When leflunomide was given at 2.5, 5, 10, 15, or 20 mg/kg by gavage daily, the cardiac xenograft survivals were 5.0 +/- 0.6, 8.0 +/- 3.0, 52.0 +/- 20.2, 76.5 +/- 21.14, and 58.9 +/- 28.1 days, respectively. The survival rates were 4.0 +/- 0 and 27.7 +/- 28.7 days when CsA was given at 10 and 20 mg/kg i.m., respectively. The combination of CsA at 10 mg/kg with leflunomide at 10 mg/kg or 5 mg/kg prolonged cardiac xenograft survival to 106.0 +/- 50.2 days and > 90 days, respectively. There were no observable side effects in the latter combination. Histologic studies of untreated graft hearts 4 days after transplantation revealed infarction of myocardium and severe RBC extravasation. In contrast, the rejected hamster hearts from long-term survivors showed massive mononuclear cell infiltration and myocardium fibrosis in contrast to the early rejected picture. Therapy with leflunomide begun on day 2 reversed these rejection responses by day 6. In addition, the increase in allospecific IgM titers observed on day 2 was reversed, and the allospecific IgM to IgG isotype switch that occurred in untreated animals was prevented by leflunomide. These observations demonstrate that leflunomide, at nontoxic doses, effectively controlled acute rejection of concordant xenografts and synergistic immunosuppressive effect was achieved with leflunomide and CsA.