Influence of triple disease modifying anti-rheumatic drug therapy on carotid artery inflammation in drug-naive patients with recent onset of rheumatoid arthritis

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Objective. Increased atherosclerosis in RA is not fully explained by the ordinary risk factors, but it may be related to vascular inflammation. The aim of this study was to investigate the degree of carotid artery inflammation in drug-naive patients with early RA before and after DMARD triple therapy.

Methods. Fifteen non-diabetic patients with recently diagnosed RA [age 51 (16) years, 6 males] were examined before and at 2 and 4 weeks after the initiation of combination therapy with MTX, SSZ, HCQ and ≤10 mg/day oral prednisolone. Eight healthy males aged 49 (6) years were examined once as controls. Inflammation in the carotid artery was quantified, using [18F]fluorodeoxyglucose (18F-FDG)-PET/CT, as the maximum standardized uptake value (SUVmax) and the maximum target-to-background ratio (TBRmax).

Results. Before the treatment, patients with RA had significantly higher carotid artery 18F-FDG uptake, as compared with healthy controls [TBRmax 1.78 (0.07) vs 1.51 (0.08), P = 0.03]. The 4-week DMARD therapy reduced the TBRmax to the level of healthy controls [1.53 (0.05), P = 0.84]. Compared with the baseline, the TBRmax decreased by 12.4 (16.8)% (P = 0.01) during 4-week DMARD therapy. At baseline, the SUVmax correlated with ESR (r = 0.52, P = 0.02) and CRP (r = 0.65, P = 0.01). Change in SUVmax correlated with changes in ESR and CRP after 4 weeks of treatment, as did the changes in TBRmax and SUVmax with DAS at 12 weeks of treatment.

Conclusion.18F-FDG-PET/CT revealed that drug-naive patients with early RA show carotid artery inflammation that can be efficiently reduced by 1-month DMARD triple therapy.

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