Increased cardiovascular mortality has been associated with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). There have been reports indicating that tumor necrosis factor blockers may exert favorable but transient effects on lipid profile, flow-mediated vasodilation (FMD) of the brachial artery, and common carotid intima-media thickness (ccIMT) in RA. In this study, we assessed the effects of rituximab on FMD, ccIMT, and lipid profile. Five female RA patients received two infusions of 1000 mg rituximab i.v. High-resolution B-mode ultrasound was used to assess brachial FMD and ccIMT. We also determined plasma total cholesterol (TC), HDL-C, LDL-C, and triglyceride (Tg) levels. Assessments were performed at baseline, as well as at weeks 2, 6, and 16 after the first infusion. Rituximab (RTX) treatment resulted in a rapid and sustained improvement in FMD. The mean improvement was 30%, 22%, and 81% at weeks 2, 6, and 16, respectively. RTX had little effect on atherosclerosis within this short period of time; however, we observed 10%, 9%, and 2% decreases in ccIMT at weeks 2, 6, and 16, respectively. RTX therapy resulted in 3-11% decrease in TC, as well as 14-35% increase in HDL-C levels. Two infusions of RTX exerted early and sustained favorable effects on endothelial dysfunction, as well as plasma TC and HDL-C levels. RTX may also decrease ccIMT; however, longer follow-up is needed to assess the prolonged effects of RTX on vascular function and lipid profile in RA patients.
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