Objectives Combination therapy with methotrexate (MTX) and tumour necrosis factor (TNF) blockade has increased remission rates in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. However, there are no guidelines regarding cessation of therapy. There is a need for markers predictive of sustained remission following cessation of TNF blocker therapy.
Methods Patients in remission (DAS28 <2.6) treated with a TNF blocker and MTX as initial or delayed therapy were recruited. Joints were assessed for grey scale synovitis and power Doppler (PD) activity. Immunological assessment involved advanced six-colour flow cytometry.
Results Of the 47 patients recruited, 27 had received initial treatment and 20 delayed treatment with TNF blocking drugs. Two years after stopping TNF blocker therapy, the main predictor of successful cessation was timing of treatment; 59% of patients in the initial treatment group sustained remission compared with 15% in the delayed treatment group (p=0.003). Within the initial treatment group, secondary analysis showed that the only clinical predictor of successful cessation of treatment was shorter symptom duration before receiving treatment (median 5.5 months vs 9 months; p=0.008). No other clinical features were associated with successful cessation of therapy. Thirty-five per cent of patients had low PD activity but levels were not informative. Several immunological parameters were significantly associated with sustained remission including abnormal differentiation subset of T cells and regulatory T cells. Similar non-significant trends were observed in the delayed treatment group.
Conclusion In patients in remission with low levels of imaging synovitis receiving combination treatment with a TNF blocker and MTX, immunological parameters and short duration of untreated symptoms were associated with successful cessation of TNF blocker therapy.
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