Anti-tumour necrosis factor (TNF) biologics have revolutionized therapy of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). We compared the effects of infliximab on numbers of circulating leucocyte subsets in early RA (disease/symptom duration of ≤1 year) and late RA patients (>1 year). A control group consisted of early RA patients treated with a combination of methotrexate (MTX) and methylprednisolone. Blood samples were obtained at baseline (pre-therapy) from all RA patients, divided into three groups: (i) late RA receiving infliximab/MTX, (ii) early RA-infliximab/MTX, (iii) early RA-steroid/MTX, and also from follow-up patients at 2 and 14 weeks. Significant differences in absolute counts of monocytes and granulocytes were observed between healthy controls and RA patients. At baseline CD14(bright) monocytes and CD16(+) granulocytes were increased in both early RA and late RA patients. CD4(+) T cells, CD8(+) T cells and B cells were all increased at baseline in early RA, but not in late RA. At 2 weeks following infliximab treatment decreased granulocytes were observed in both early and late RA and decreased natural killer (NK) cells in late RA. CD16(+) granulocytes and NK cells were also decreased at 14 weeks post-infliximab in early RA. Biotinylated infliximab was used to detect membrane-associated TNF (mTNF)-expressing leucocytes in RA patients. CD16(+) granulocytes, NK cells and CD14(dim) monocytes all expressed higher levels of mTNF in RA patients. In summary infliximab is associated with decreased CD16(+) granulocyte and NK cell counts, possibly through binding of mTNF. Differential effects of infliximab between early and late RA suggest that pathogenic mechanisms change as disease progresses.
© 2012 The Authors. Clinical and Experimental Immunology © 2012 British Society for Immunology.