Open Access Research article

Hormone replacement therapy in rheumatoid arthritis is associated with lower serum levels of soluble IL-6 receptor and higher insulin-like growth factor 1

Helena Forsblad d'Elia1*, Lars-Åke Mattsson2, Claes Ohlsson3, Elisabeth Nordborg1 and Hans Carlsten1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Rheumatology and Inflammation Research, The Sahlgrenska Academy at Göteborg University, Göteborg, Sweden

2 Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, The Sahlgrenska Academy at Göteborg University, Göteborg, Sweden

3 Department of Internal Medicine, The Sahlgrenska Academy at Göteborg University, Göteborg, Sweden

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Arthritis Res Ther 2003, 5:R202-R209  doi:10.1186/ar761

Published: 1 May 2003


Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) modulates the imbalance in bone remodeling, thereby decreasing bone loss. Sex hormones are known to influence rheumatic diseases. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of HRT on the serum levels of hormones and cytokines regulating bone turnover in 88 postmenopausal women with active rheumatoid arthritis (RA) randomly allocated to receive HRT plus calcium and vitamin D3 or calcium and vitamin D3 alone for 2 years. An increase in estradiol (E2) correlated strongly with improvement of bone mineral density in the hip (P < 0.001) and lumbar spine (P < 0.001). Both baseline levels and changes during the study of IL-6 and erythrocyte sedimentation rate were correlated positively (P < 0.001). HRT for 2 years resulted in an increase of the bone anabolic factor, insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) (P < 0.05) and a decrease of serum levels of soluble IL-6 receptor (sIL-6R) (P < 0.05), which is known to enhance the biological activity of IL-6, an osteoclast-stimulating and proinflammatory cytokine. Baseline levels of IL-6 and IGF-1 were inversely associated (P < 0.05), and elevation of IGF-1 was connected with decrease in erythrocyte sedimentation rate (P < 0.05) after 2 years. Interestingly, increase in serum levels of E2 was associated with reduction of sIL-6R (P < 0.05) and reduction of sIL-6R was correlated with improved bone mineral density in the lumbar spine (P < 0.05). The latter association was however not significant after adjusting for the effect of E2 (P = 0.075). The influences of IGF-1 and the IL-6/sIL-6R pathways suggest possible mechanisms whereby HRT may exert beneficial effects in RA. However, to confirm this hypothesis future and larger studies are needed.

cytokines; estrogen; hormone replacement therapy; insulin-like growth factor 1; rheumatoid arthritis