Objective: Cardiovascular disease is the major cause of excessive mortality in rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Atherosclerosis and RA share similar inflammatory mechanisms that include involvement of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF alpha). Anti-TNF alpha antibody improved endothelial function in RA patients after a 12-week treatment. The aim of the present study was to assess whether improvement of endothelial function is still effective in long-term infliximab-treated RA patients.
Methods: Seven RA patients (5 women; age range 25-73 years) were studied. They had been treated with infliximab for at least 1 year and were currently being treated with this drug every 8 weeks. Endothelial-dependent and independent vasodilatation were measured by brachial ultrasonography.
Results: Following infliximab infusion, a rapid increase in the percentage of endothelial-dependent vasodilatation was found in all patients (mean +/- SD 9.4 +/- 5.5% 2 days postinfusion compared with 2.8 +/- 2.5% 2 days before infusion). However, values returned to baseline by 4 weeks after infusion. There were no differences in the percentage of endothelial-independent vasodilatation prior to and after infusion. A decrease in the individual disease activity score for each patient was observed at day 7 postinfusion (P = 0.02).
Conclusion: Our study confirms an active but transient effect of infliximab on endothelial function in RA patients treated periodically with this drug. It may support long-term use of drugs that block TNF alpha function to reduce the high incidence of cardiovascular complications in RA.