Evidence-based review of biologic markers as indicators of disease progression and remission in rheumatoid arthritis
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Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic, immune-mediated inflammatory disease characterised by inflammation resulting in structural joint damage and functional disability. Tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNFα) is a pivotal mediator and driver of inflammation in RA. Inflammation is closely related to the production of C-reactive protein (CRP), and a close correlation exists between serum CRP and TNFα levels. CRP levels are therefore a convenient, objective biomarker of disease activity. CRP correlates closely with changes in inflammation/disease activity, radiological damage and progression and functional disability. Identification of TNFα as a driver of RA progression has led to the introduction of TNFα-blocking agents and, subsequently, improvement of disease management. TNFα-blocking agents provide rapid, profound and sustained suppression of disease activity in correspondence with a marked reduction in CRP levels. A reduction in CRP level correlates closely with the positive clinical response to TNFα-blocking therapy. Thus, CRP levels can be used to predict, assess and monitor response to treatment with TNFα-blocking agents, and may be helpful in determining the optimal TNFα-blocker dosage. Given the close correlation between inflammation and disease progression and the relation between inflammation and CRP, the latter, if used effectively in clinical practice, may be means to identify patients likely to progress rapidly and who require intensive anti-TNFα therapy. The purpose of this review is to identify how CRP levels may be useful for monitoring the effect of therapy on halting disease progression and why monitoring CRP levels at baseline and after treatment should become a routine part of clinical practice.