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Neuroimmunomodulation. 2017;24(1):11-20. doi: 10.1159/000475714. Epub 2017 May 24.

Inflammation Is an Important Covariate for the Crosstalk of Sleep and the HPA Axis in Rheumatoid Arthritis.

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Laboratory of Experimental Rheumatology and Neuroendocrine Immunology, Department of Internal Medicine I, University Hospital, Regensburg, Germany.


Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients have sleep problems, and inflammation influences sleep. We demonstrated that sleep quality improves during intensified treatment with methotrexate (MTX) or etanercept (ETA). Since the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is involved in sleep regulation, this study investigated the interrelation between sleep parameters, inflammation as objectified by C-reactive protein (CRP), and serum cortisol and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) levels. Thirty-one eligible patients (disease activity score, DAS28CRP ≥3.2) participated in a 16-week, open, prospective study of HPA axis outcomes. MTX was initiated in 15 patients (female-to-male ratio 9/6) and ETA in 16 patients (14/2). Clinical, laboratory (after polysomnography [PSG] between 8 and 9 a.m.), sleep (PSG), and HPA axis outcome parameters (after PSG between 8 and 9 a.m.) were recorded at baseline and week 16. Clinical characteristics of patients markedly improved throughout the study (e.g., DAS28CRP: p < 0.001; CRP: p < 0.001). Sleep efficiency and wake time after sleep onset markedly improved in the ETA group. Serum cortisol and ACTH did not change during observation. At baseline, serum cortisol levels were negatively correlated to sleep efficiency; this may depend on inflammation, because controlling for CRP eliminated this negative correlation. After ETA treatment, serum cortisol had a high positive correlation with total sleep time, sleep efficiency, and a negative correlation with wake time before and after sleep onset, which was not eliminated by controlling for CRP. In RA patients, the data indicate that inflammation is an important covariate for the crosstalk of sleep and the HPA axis.


Anti-TNF therapy; Cortisol; Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis; Intensive therapy; Rheumatoid arthritis; Sleep

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