Serum vascular markers and vascular imaging in assessment of rheumatoid arthritis disease activity and response to therapy.
Vascular pathology, in the form of angiogenesis, is important in the perpetuation of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and, in the form of endothelial dysfunction, contributes to associated cardiovascular co-morbidity. Emerging evidence suggests that TNFalpha blockade may modify vascular pathology in RA. Serum concentrations of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), a potent endothelial cell-specific growth factor that is up-regulated by pro-inflammatory cytokines and by hypoxia, are elevated in RA and correlate with disease activity. Serum levels of VEGF at first presentation in RA predict radiographic progression of the disease over the subsequent year. Power Doppler ultrasonography is a sensitive method for demonstrating the presence of blood flow in small vessels and the vascular signal correlates with histopathological quantification of the vascular density of synovial tissue. Recent data indicate that high-frequency ultrasound and power Doppler are sensitive tools for evaluation of disease activity and assessment of response to therapy. Power Doppler imaging may also have the potential to predict those patients most at risk of accelerated joint destruction. However, much work has yet to be done to standardize the use of these imaging technologies.