Background: Treatment with tumor necrosis factor inhibitors for rheumatoid arthritis has been associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease in observational studies. There are conflicting data on the influence of tumor necrosis factor inhibitors on lipid levels.
Objectives: To evaluate the effect of treatment with adalimumab on blood lipid levels, lipoproteins, and atherosclerosis of the carotid artery.
Methods: Fourteen patients with active rheumatoid arthritis (11 women and 3 men; mean age 63.7 years; median disease duration 9.0 years; and 78% rheumatoid factor positive) were treated with adalimumab 40 mg subcutaneously every 2 weeks and followed for 3 months. The patients had not been treated with adalimumab previously and had not received other tumor necrosis factor inhibitors within the past 3 months or moderate/high dose corticosteroids within the past 2 weeks. The intima-media thickness of the common carotid artery was assessed using B mode ultrasonography. Triglycerides, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and HDL cholesterol levels were analyzed in fresh fasting blood samples, whereas apolipoprotein B and apolipoprotein A1 (apoA1) levels were determined in thawed plasma samples using standard turbidimetric immunoassays.
Results: Total cholesterol (mean = 5.36 vs 5.96 mmol/L; P = 0.005), LDL cholesterol (mean = 3.33 vs 3.77 mmol/L; P = .005), HDL cholesterol (mean = 1.43 vs 1.55 mmol/L; P = 0.048), apolipoprotein B (mean = 1.04 vs 1.13 g/L; P = .012), and apoA1 (mean = 1.42 vs 1.58 g/L; P = 0.005) all increased, but there were no major changes in the LDL to HDL cholesterol ratio (median = 2.56 vs 2.35; P = 0.27) or the apolipoprotein B to apoA1 ratio (mean = 0.76 vs 0.74; P = 0.46). There was no change in triglyceride levels (P = 0.55). Disease activity decreased significantly from baseline to the 3-month evaluation (disease activity score based on 28 joints mean = 5.6 vs 4.1; P = 0.007). An increase in apoA1 correlated with decreases in the patient global assessment of disease severity (r = 0.79; P = 0.001) and C-reactive protein level (r = 0.74; P = 0.003). Changes in the apoliprotein B to apoA1 ratio correlated with changes in erythrocyte sedimentation rate (r = 0.54; P = 0.046). There was no major change in the common carotid artery intima-media thickness (mean = 0.78 vs 0.80 mm; P = 0.48).
Conclusions: Although these results suggest that control of inflammation could have a beneficial effect on the lipid profile through an increase in HDL cholesterol levels, the observed protective effect on cardiovascular disease events by tumor necrosis factor blockers is likely to be explained by other mechanisms than changes in lipid levels or short-term effects on atherosclerosis of the carotid artery.
Keywords: Atherosclerosis; Lipids; Rheumatoid arthritis; TNF inhibitors.