Mechanisms behind efficacy of tumor necrosis factor inhibitors in inflammatory bowel diseases

Pharmacol Ther. 2016 Mar;159:110-9. doi: 10.1016/j.pharmthera.2016.01.001. Epub 2016 Jan 22.


Biological treatment with tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors is successful in the management of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). All TNF inhibitors antagonize the pro-inflammatory cytokine TNF-α but with varying efficacies in IBD. The variations in efficacy probably are caused by structural differences between the agents that affect their mechanisms of action and pharmacokinetic properties. Several mechanisms have been proposed, such as modulation of the expression of pro-inflammatory mediators and a reduction in the number of activated immune cells. However, it seems that clinical efficacy is the result of a number of different mechanisms and that binding of transmembrane TNF by TNF inhibitors. Knowledge of the mechanisms of action has been obtained mainly through the use of in vitro assays that may differ significantly from the situation in vivo. This review discusses the available data on TNF inhibitors in order to identify mechanisms of importance for their efficacy in IBD. Thus, a better understanding of the mechanistic basis for clinical efficacy can lead to a more rational use of TNF inhibitors in the management of IBD.

Keywords: Crohn's disease; IBD; Inflammatory pathways; TNF inhibitors; Ulcerative colitis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / pharmacology
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / immunology
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / immunology


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha