INTRODUCTION: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD), and it has been postulated that RA disease-related inflammation contributes to endothelial dysfunction. The aim of the present work was to examine predictors (RA-related and CVD risk factors) and anti-tumor necrosis factor-alpha (anti-TNF-α) treatment effects on endothelial function in different vascular beds.
METHODS: Microvascular endothelial function (laser Doppler imaging with iontophoresis of acetylcholine and sodium-nitroprusside), and macrovascular endothelial function (flow-mediated dilatation and glyceryl-trinitrate-mediated dilatation) were analyzed in parallel with disease activity. Individual CVD risk factors and global CVD risk were assessed cross-sectionally in 99 unselected RA patients and longitudinally (baseline, 2 weeks, and 3 months) in 23 RA patients commencing anti-TNF-α therapy.
RESULTS: In this cross-sectional study, regression analyses revealed that markers of RA disease-related inflammation were not associated with microvascular or macrovascular endothelium-dependent function (P > 0.05); global CVD risk inversely correlated with microvascular endothelium-dependent function (P < 0.01) and with macrovascular endothelium-independent function (P < 0.01). In the longitudinal study, only microvascular endothelium-dependent function showed an improvement after 2 weeks of anti-TNF-α treatment when compared with baseline (437% ± 247% versus 319% ± 217%; P = 0.001), but no association was evident between change in endothelial function and change in inflammatory markers.
CONCLUSIONS: Classical CVD risk may influence endothelial function more than disease-related markers of inflammation in RA. Classical CVD risk factors and anti-TNF-α medication have different effects on microvascular and macrovascular endothelial function, suggesting that combined CVD-prevention approaches may be necessary. Prospective studies examining whether assessments of vascular function are predictive of long-term CV outcomes in RA are required.