Objective: To determine whether elevated levels of the angiogenic cytokine vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), detected on presentation to an early arthritis clinic, are associated with the development of chronic and erosive arthritis.
Methods: Concentrations of VEGF and its soluble receptor, soluble fms-like tyrosine kinase 1 (sFlt-1), were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay in serum samples from patients with early (<2 years from onset) arthritic symptoms in the peripheral joints, namely early rheumatoid arthritis (RA), self-limiting arthritis (viral, reactive, and idiopathic inflammatory arthritis), or psoriatic arthritis. In addition, measurements were made in random samples from patients with longstanding (>3 years from symptom onset) RA treated with disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, from patients with osteoarthritis (OA), and from patients with polyarthralgia without arthritis, as well as from nonarthritic controls.
Results: Serum VEGF levels at presentation were elevated in patients with inflammatory arthritis (RA, psoriatic, and self-limiting arthritis) as well as in patients with OA, in comparison with nonarthritic controls. Moreover, serum VEGF concentrations were significantly higher in patients with early RA than in patients with self-limiting arthritis. Serum VEGF levels at presentation in patients with early RA correlated significantly with the development of radiographic damage after 1 year. Improvement in the clinical symptoms of RA was associated with a reduction in serum VEGF levels. Serum sFlt-1 levels were raised in patients with early and longstanding RA and in those with self-limiting arthritis, and correlated positively with the serum VEGF concentrations in patients with inflammatory arthritis.
Conclusion: These findings implicate the proangiogenic cytokine VEGF in the persistence of inflammatory arthritis, and support the hypothesis that expansion of the synovial vasculature is important for the development of joint destruction in RA.