Objective: This study was performed to evaluate the radiological features of and therapeutic responses to pulmonary disease caused by nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) in the setting of biological therapy for rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Methods: We conducted a retrospective chart review of 13 patients from multiple centers who had developed pulmonary NTM disease during biological therapy for RA, including infliximab, etanercept, adalimumab, and tocilizumab.
Results: Most cases were asymptomatic or resulted in only common-cold-like symptoms. Abnormalities in computed tomography (CT) imaging were protean and frequently overlapped. The most predominant pattern was nodular/bronchiectatic disease (six cases), followed by alveolar infiltrate (three cases), cavitary disease (two cases), and pulmonary nodules (two cases). In most cases, pulmonary NTM disease had spread from a preexisting lesion; in particular, bronchial/bronchiolar abnormalities. In three cases, one or more nodular lesions with or without calcification were a focus of disease. Following the discontinuation of biological agents, most patients responded to anti-NTM therapy. Two patients showed no exacerbation in the absence of any anti-NTM therapy. In one patient, restarting tocilizumab therapy while continuing to receive adequate anti-NTM therapy produced a favorable outcome. In two other patients with a previous history of pulmonary NTM disease, introducing biological therapy led to recurrence, but anti-NTM therapy was effective in these patients.
Conclusion: CT abnormalities of pulmonary NTM disease in RA patients receiving biological therapy were variable, but were not unique to this clinical setting. NTM disease can spread from preexisting structural abnormalities, even if they are minute. Contrary to our expectations, the therapeutic outcomes of pulmonary NTM disease were favorable in these patients.