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Abstract

Objective

To compare the effects of methotrexate (MTX), alone or in combination with intravenous (IV) methylprednisolone (MP) or infliximab, on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)–detected synovitis, bone edema, and erosive changes in patients with early rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Methods

Forty-four patients with early RA were randomized to receive MTX alone (MTX group), MTX plus IV MP (IV MP group), or MTX plus infliximab (infliximab group), infused on day 0 and weeks 2, 6, 14, 22, 30, 38, and 46. Gadolinium-enhanced MRI scans of the metacarpophalangeal joints, wrists, and metatarsophalangeal joints were performed at baseline, week 18, and week 52.

Results

Scores for MRI-detected synovitis and bone edema improved over time in the 3 groups, with significantly lower synovitis scores in the infliximab group compared with the MTX group and significantly lower bone edema scores in the infliximab group compared with the MTX and the IV MP groups. Scores for MRI-detected erosion significantly increased over time in all groups. There were no differences in erosion scores between the MTX group and the other groups. It is of note that patients treated with IV MP showed more significant progression in MRI-detected erosions compared with patients treated with infliximab. At week 22, response rates according to the American College of Rheumatology 20% improvement criteria (ACR20), the ACR50, and the ACR70 were significantly higher in both the IV MP group and the infliximab group compared with the MTX group. At week 52, remission was achieved in 40% of patients in the MTX group and in 70% of patients in the IV MP and infliximab groups. Health Assessment Questionnaire scores improved significantly over time in all groups, with patients receiving IV MP experiencing significantly more improvement compared with patients treated with MTX alone. No severe side effects were observed, except 1 case of MTX-related pneumonitis.

Conclusion

The combination of MTX and infliximab is superior to MTX alone for reducing MRI-detected signs of synovitis and bone edema in patients with early RA. Progression of MRI-detected erosion was greater in patients treated with MTX plus IV MP compared with that in patients who received MTX plus infliximab.