Objectives: To analyse the effects of infliximab infusions on serum levels of lipids in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) treated for 2 years.
Methods: Fifty-two patients (41 females and 11 males) with RA undergoing infliximab treatment (3 mg/kg) were consecutively recruited into the study. The mean (+/-SD) age of the patients was 54.6+/-12.5 years and mean disease duration was 14.1+/-8.6 years. Blood was sampled before infusion at baseline, and at 3, 6, 12, 18 and 24 months. Forty-one of the patients were also treated with methotrexate, 13 with other disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and 28 with prednisolone (<10 mg daily). For comparison, lipid levels were followed for 2 years in 70 consecutively included patients with early RA during treatment with conventional DMARDs.
Results: There was an initial increase in plasma levels of cholesterol, high density lipoprotein (HDL)-cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL)-cholesterol, and LDL/HDL and total/HDL cholesterol ratios. However, after 3 months HDL-cholesterol decreased significantly, followed after 6 months by cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol. The LDL/HDL and total/HDL-cholesterol ratios remained significantly raised. HDL-cholesterol increased and the ratios improved in patients with early RA receiving conventional treatment. The changes over time differed significantly between the patient groups.
Conclusion: During infliximab infusion a pro-atherogenic lipid profile developed despite reduced inflammatory activity. The long-term decrease in HDL-cholesterol was unexpected considering the known effects of tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNFalpha).