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Open Access Research article

Glucocorticoid receptor gene polymorphisms and disease activity during pregnancy and the postpartum period in rheumatoid arthritis

Rogier AM Quax1*, Yaël A de Man2, Jan W Koper1, Elisabeth FC van Rossum1, Sten P Willemsen3, Steven WJ Lamberts1, Johanna MW Hazes2, Radboud JEM Dolhain2 and Richard A Feelders1

Author affiliations

1 Department of Internal Medicine, Erasmus MC, University Medical Center, 's-Gravendijkwal 230, Rotterdam, 3015 CE, The Netherlands

2 Department of Rheumatology, Erasmus MC, University Medical Center, 's-Gravendijkwal 230, Rotterdam, 3015 CE, The Netherlands

3 Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Erasmus MC, University Medical Center, 's-Gravendijkwal 230, Rotterdam, 3015 CE, The Netherlands

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Citation and License

Arthritis Research & Therapy 2012, 14:R183  doi:10.1186/ar4014

Published: 13 August 2012

Abstract

Introduction

The mechanism underlying the spontaneous improvement of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) during pregnancy and the subsequent postpartum flare is incompletely understood, and the disease course varies widely between pregnant RA patients. In pregnancy, total and free levels of cortisol increase gradually, followed by a postpartum decrease to prepregnancy values. The glucocorticoid receptor (GR) polymorphisms BclI and N363S are associated with relatively increased glucocorticoid (GC) sensitivity, whereas the 9β and ER22/23EK polymorphisms of the GR gene are associated with a relatively decreased GC sensitivity. We examined the relation between the presence of these GR polymorphisms and level of disease activity and disease course of RA during pregnancy and postpartum.

Methods

We studied 147 participants of the PARA study (Pregnancy-Induced Amelioration of Rheumatoid Arthritis study), a prospective study investigating the natural improvement during pregnancy and the postpartum flare in women with RA. Patients were visited, preferably before pregnancy, at each trimester and at three postpartum time points. On all occasions, disease activity was scored by using DAS28. All patients were genotyped for the GR polymorphisms BclI, N363S, 9β, and ER22/23EK and divided in groups harboring either polymorphisms conferring increased GC sensitivity (BclI and N363S; GC-S patients) or polymorphisms conferring decreased GC sensitivity (9β or 9β + ER22/23EK; GC-I patients). Data were analyzed by using a mixed linear model, comparing GC-S patients with GC-I patients with respect to improvement during pregnancy and the postpartum flare. The cumulative disease activity was calculated by using time-integrated values (area under the curve, AUC) of DAS28 in GC-I patients versus GC-S patients. Separate analyses were performed according to the state of GC use.

Results

GC-S patients treated with GC had a significantly lower AUC of DAS28 in the postpartum period than did GC-I patients. This difference was not observed in patients who were not treated with GCs. During pregnancy, GC-S and GC-I patients had comparable levels of disease activity and course of disease.

Conclusions

Differences in relative GC sensitivity, as determined by GR polymorphisms, are associated with the level of disease activity in the postpartum period in GC-treated patients, but they do not seem to influence the course of the disease per se.