Patients treated with antibodies to tumor necrosis factor α (TNFα) have an increased susceptibility to intracellular infections. We describe 2 patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) who developed Salmonella septicemia during anti-TNF treatment. The aim of this study was to identify the mechanisms involved in the increased susceptibility of anti-TNF–treated patients to intracellular microorganisms.
We evaluated an additional 6 RA patients receiving anti-TNF antibodies, 5 RA patients not receiving anti-TNF therapy, and 6 age- and sex-matched healthy volunteers. The in vitro production of cytokines (interleukin-1β [IL-1β], IL-6, interferon-γ [IFNγ], and IL-10) upon bacterial stimulation of whole blood and the expression of Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR-4) on dendritic cells from RA patients treated with infliximab, RA patients not treated with infliximab, and healthy controls were compared.
Stimulation with heat-killed Salmonella typhimurium or Candida albicans led to a significantly decreased production of IFNγ, but not to a decreased production of IL-10, IL-β, or IL-6, in anti-TNF–treated RA patients compared with RA patients who were not receiving anti-TNF antibodies and compared with healthy controls. TNF-blocking treatment ex vivo significantly inhibited TLR-4 expression on dendritic cells from RA patients and healthy controls.
Since recognition of microorganisms by TLR-4 and activation of phagocytes by IFNγ are essential mechanisms for the defense against intracellular and fungal pathogens, we propose that this pathway is crucial for the increased susceptibility to these microorganisms in patients receiving anti-TNF therapy.