Altered circadian rhythms in rheumatoid arthritis patients play a role in the disease's symptoms

Autoimmun Rev. 2005 Nov;4(8):497-502. doi: 10.1016/j.autrev.2005.04.019. Epub 2005 Jun 13.


The circadian changes in the metabolism or nocturnal secretion of endogenous corticosteroids (reduction) observed in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients are responsible, in part, for the time-dependent changes that are observed in the inflammatory response and related early morning clinical symptoms of the disease. Melatonin (MLT), another circadian nocturnal hormone that is the secretory product of the pineal gland, has been implicated in the time-dependent RA inflammatory reaction with effects that are opposite to those of corticosteroids. As a consequence, altered functioning of the HPA axis (early morning reduced corticosteroid production) and of the pineal gland (night increased MLT production) found in RA patients, seem to be important factors in the appearance and perpetuation of the clinical circadian symptoms of the disease. Consistently, human proinflammatory Th1-type cytokine production (related to MLT stimulation) exhibits a diurnal rhythmicity with peak levels during the night and early morning, at a time when plasma cortisol (inducing the Th2-type cytokine production) is lowest and MLT is highest. Reduced daily light exposure as observed in northern Europe (Estonia), at least during the winter, might explain the higher and more prolonged serum MLT concentrations that were observed in northern RA patients, as well as some epidemiological features versus southern Europe patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / blood
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / physiopathology*
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Cytokines / blood
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / physiology
  • Melatonin / physiology


  • Cytokines
  • Melatonin
  • Hydrocortisone