Objective: To determine whether treatment with the chimeric anti-tumor necrosis factor alpha antibody infliximab could reduce cellularity by the induction of apoptosis in synovial tissue.
Methods: Twenty-four rheumatoid arthritis patients with active disease were randomized to receive either infliximab (3 mg/kg) (n = 12) or placebo (n = 12) intravenously. All patients were subjected to arthroscopic synovial biopsy directly before initiation of treatment. A second arthroscopic synovial biopsy of the same index joint was performed 48 hours after the first arthroscopy. After the second arthroscopy, the patients who had initially received placebo were also treated with infliximab in an extension study. A third arthroscopy was performed in all patients on day 28. Immunohistologic analysis was performed to characterize the cell infiltrate. In situ detection of apoptotic cells was performed by TUNEL assay and electron microscopy.
Results: At 48 hours after initiation of infliximab treatment, there was a significant reduction in the number of intimal macrophages; this was not observed in the placebo group. The number of sublining macrophages, T cells, and plasma cells also tended to be decreased in infliximab-treated patients, but not in the placebo group. Of interest, we did not detect any increase in the number of apoptotic cells after infliximab treatment.
Conclusion: Infliximab therapy may reduce the number of inflammatory cells in rheumatoid synovial tissue as soon as 48 hours after initiation of treatment, but apparently not by induction of apoptosis. Conceivably, decreased cell infiltration primarily results from early inhibition of cell migration.