Purpose: With the current use of biologics in rheumatoid arthritis (RA), there is a need to monitor ongoing structural joint damage due to the dissociation of articular cartilage damage from disease activity of RA. This study longitudinally analyzed levels of serum cartilage biomarkers during 54 weeks of infliximab therapy, to evaluate the feasibility of biomarkers for monitoring structural joint damage. Methods: Subjects comprised 33 patients with early RA and 33 patients with established RA. All patients received 3 mg/kg of infliximab and methotrexate for 54 weeks. Levels of the following serum cartilage markers were measured at baseline and at weeks 14, 22, and 54: hyaluronan (HA); cartilage oligometric matrix protein (COMP); type II collagen (CII)-related neoepitope (C2C); type II procollagen carboxy-propeptide (CPII); and keratin sulfate (KS). Time courses for each biomarker were assessed, and relationships between these biomarkers and clinical or radiographic parameters generally used for RA were investigated. Results: Levels of CRP, MMP-3, DAS28-CRP, and annual progression of TSS were improved to similar degrees in both groups at week 54. HA and C2C/CPII were significantly decreased compared to baseline in the early RA group (p&0.001), whereas HA and COMP, but not C2C/CPII, were decreased in the established RA group. Strikingly, serum C2C/CPII levels were universally improved in early RA, regardless of EULAR response grade. Both ΔHA and ΔC2C/CPII from baseline to week 54 correlated significantly with not only ΔCRP, but also ΔDAS28 in early RA. Interestingly, when partial correlation coefficients were calculated by standardizing CRP levels, the significant correlation of ΔHA to ΔDAS28 disappeared, whereas correlations of ΔC2C/CPII to ΔDAS28, ΔJNS, and ΔHAQ remained significant. These results suggest a role of ΔC2C/CPII as a marker of ongoing structural joint damage with the least association with CRP, and that irreversible cartilage damage in established RA limits restoration of the C2C/CPII level, even with tight control of joint inflammation. Conclusion: The temporal course of C2C/CPII level during anti-TNF therapy indicates that CII turnover shifts toward CII synthesis in early RA, but not in established RA, potentially due to irreversible cartilage damage. ΔC2C/CPII appears to offer a useful marker reflecting ongoing structural joint damage, dissociated from inflammatory indices such as CRP and MMP-3.
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