Anti-TNFα therapy in rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmunity
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The aim of the study was to evaluate a panel of autoantibodies in patients affected by rheumatoid arthritis (RA) treated with anti-TNFα blockers, and to consider a different autoantibody induction effect by infliximab and etanercept; and in addition to evaluate in these cases a relationship between antinuclear antibody (ANA) titre and both C-reactive protein (CRP) and Blys levels. Fifty-four patients (8 men, 46 women, mean age 51.4 years, mean duration of disease 13.6 years) affected by refractory RA were treated with anti-TNFα blockers for 12 consecutive months; 43 patients were given infliximab and 11 etanercept. At baseline and every 4 months a panel of autoantibodies consisting of rheumatoid factor, antinuclear, anti-double-stranded DNA, anti-ENA, anti-mitochondrial, anti-thyroid and anti-neutrophil cytoplasmic antibodies (ANCA) was tested. At the same time CRP level was measured. Blys level was determined at baseline and after 1 year in five cases that developed a strong positivity for ANA during infliximab therapy. In 41 cases (95.3%) treated with infliximab, ANA were detected on at least one occasion, and in almost half of these cases the titre was very high, equal to or higher than 1:1.280. On the other hand, patients treated with etanercept presented ANA positivity in a lower percentage of cases and at a low titre. No correlation was found between ANA titre and CRP level; Blys level did not present a constant trend in patients who developed a very high positivity for ANA. Anti-double-stranded DNA, anti-thyroid or ANCA were found only in a few patients, in the absence of a clinical picture indicative of systemic lupus erythematosus, autoimmune thyroiditis or ANCA-associated vasculitis. A different incidence of ANA positivity was found in infliximab- and etanercept-treated RA patients; this finding might be due to the partially different method of inhibition of TNFα between the two drugs. Both CRP and Blys do not seem to participate in this phenomenon. Other autoantibodies were detected in a few patients, but no case of onset of new autoimmune disorders was observed.