Anti-tumor necrosis factor-α therapy and changes of flow-mediated vasodilatation in psoriatic and rheumatoid arthritis patients

Intern Emerg Med. 2010 Dec;5(6):495-500. doi: 10.1007/s11739-010-0458-6. Epub 2010 Sep 16.


For a long time, the endothelial covering of the vessels has been considered an inert surface. On the contrary, the endothelial cells are active and dynamic elements in the interaction between blood and tissues. The control of the vessel basal tone is obtained by the complex balance between the relaxing and contracting endothelial factors. Previous clinical studies show that patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune rheumatologic pathologies are at high risk of death being prematurely affected by atherosclerosis and cardiovascular diseases. Blocking tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α by biological drugs improves the endothelial function. The aim of our study was to evaluate the effects of two anti-TNF-α drugs (infliximab and etanercept) on the endothelial function by evaluating the flow-mediated dilatation (FMD), which was measured in the brachial artery before and after treatment and after 8-12 weeks. We enrolled 36 patients (average age 52 ± 9.8 years, 12 men and 24 women), 25 of them were affected by rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and 11 were affected by psoriatic arthritis (PsA) and they were divided into three groups: 10 patients were treated with etanercept, 13 patients were treated with infliximab, 13 patients were treated with DMARDs. We measured the common carotid intimal-medial thickness (ccIMT) and the endothelial function was evaluated by FMD measurement in the brachial artery, before treatment, 1 h after the beginning of treatment and after 8-12 weeks. No statistically significant difference between the three groups was found for the ultrasonographic evaluation of the carotid IMT. On the contrary, the differences between FMD values before and after the treatment in the patients treated with etanercept (13.1 ± 0.01 vs. 18.8 ± 0.01%, p < 0.01) and in the patients treated with infliximab (11.8 ± 0.09 vs. 16.7 ± 0.09%, p < 0.01) were statistically significant. Long-term evaluation for infliximab and etanercept was performed by comparing the FMD values, respectively, 8 and 12 weeks after the first treatment. After 8 weeks, FMD value was similar to the value recorded at enrollment in the infliximab group (11.9 ± 0.03 vs. 13.54 ± 0.04%, p = 0.236) and the FMD values in the etanercept group after 12 weeks showed a not statistically significant reduction of vasodilatating effect (13.01 ± 0.03 vs. 15.67 ± 0.02%, p = 0.197). In conclusion, the use of biological drugs in patients affected by autoimmune arthritis can modify the endothelial function, as indicated by the induced FMD changes, but the long-term effect tends to be considerably reduced.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / therapeutic use
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy*
  • Brachial Artery / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brachial Artery / physiology
  • Etanercept
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin G / therapeutic use
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Infliximab
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Psoriasis / drug therapy*
  • Receptors, Tumor Necrosis Factor / therapeutic use
  • Regional Blood Flow / drug effects
  • Regional Blood Flow / physiology
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Ultrasonography
  • Vasodilation / drug effects*


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Receptors, Tumor Necrosis Factor
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Infliximab
  • Etanercept