Treatment of rheumatoid arthritis with tumour necrosis factor inhibitors

Br J Pharmacol. 2011 Feb;162(4):785-91. doi: 10.1111/j.1476-5381.2010.01099.x.


Advances in our understanding of the key mediators of chronic inflammation and tissue damage characteristic of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) have resulted in the development of novel therapies primarily targeting pro-inflammatory cytokines. Inhibitors of tumour necrosis factor (TNF) are the most widely used of the biological therapies at present with five different agents currently available; four are based on monoclonal anti-TNF antibodies and a soluble TNF receptor-Fc fusion protein. Long-term use of these molecules has proven to be highly effective in the majority of patients; however, around one-third have a suboptimal response potentially leading to further cartilage and bone damage, furthermore these agents are expensive compared with conventional therapies such as methotrexate. Many recent studies have attempted to identify therapeutic response biomarkers of TNF inhibitors which could be used to improve therapeutic targeting. The presence of rheumatoid factor and anti-cyclic citullinated protein antibodies, present in around 65% of RA patients, are associated with a poorer response to anti-TNF agents. Poorer response is also associated with levels of C-reactive protein and cartilage degradation product at initiation of treatment. Intriguingly, genetic studies of variants of TNF and of genes encoding members of the Toll-like receptors, nuclear factor-kappa B and p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase signalling families have been associated with response to individual anti-TNF agents. Continued advances in technologies such as ultra high throughput sequencing and proteomics should facilitate the discovery of additional biomarkers of response to anti-TNF resulting in improved disease control and quality of life for RA patients and reduced costs for healthcare funders.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antirheumatic Agents / chemistry
  • Antirheumatic Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Antirheumatic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / blood
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / metabolism
  • Biomarkers, Pharmacological / blood
  • Biomarkers, Pharmacological / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Pharmacogenetics / methods
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor Inhibitors*
  • Tumor Necrosis Factors / genetics


  • Antirheumatic Agents
  • Biomarkers, Pharmacological
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor Inhibitors
  • Tumor Necrosis Factors