Background: Patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) frequently display an atherogenic lipid profile which has been linked with inflammation. Tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), a pivotal pro-inflammatory cytokine in RA may be involved in the development of the disturbed lipid metabolism. We investigated whether infliximab, an anti-TNF-alpha therapy, may modify the lipid profile.
Methods: 56 consecutive RA patients were treated with infliximab (3 mg/kg at weeks 0, 2, 6, 14, 22, 30). Lipid profile and CRP were assayed at baseline and before infusion at weeks 6 and 30. Baseline values were compared with those in 56 healthy volunteers.
Results: At baseline, the concentrations of HDL-cholesterol were lower in RA patients than in the controls (1.3+/-0.4 vs. 1.5+/-0.2 mmol/L; p<0.01). The triglyceride concentrations (1.6+/-0.8 vs. 1.3+/-0.4 mmol/L, p<0.01), the ratio of total cholesterol/HDL-cholesterol (4.3+/-1.6 vs. 3.2+/-0.5, p<0.001) and LDL-cholesterol/HDL-cholesterol (2.6+/-1.2 vs. 1.7+/-0.5, p<0.001) were significantly higher in RA patients than in controls. After 6 weeks of infliximab therapy, the mean total cholesterol concentration increased by 25% (p<0.001), LDL-cholesterol by 24% (p<0.001) and HDL-cholesterol by 30% (p<0.001). The decrease in CRP levels to 30 week inversely correlated with the increase in HDL-cholesterol (r=-0.47, p=0.005).
Conclusions: Infliximab administration is associated with important increases in cholesterol levels in all its forms but as no significant beneficial effect on the atherogenic ratio.