Sensory testing and topical capsaicin can characterize patients with rheumatoid arthritis
Background and objectives: Our study aimed at examining the long-time inflammatory effects of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) as chronic immune-mediated disease on pain sensation and neuropathy development compared to healthy subjects (HS). Methods: We used the quantitative sensory testing (QST) protocol of the German Research Network on Neuropathic Pain and Electroencephalography (EEG)–based contact heat evoked potentials (CHEPs) before and after topical capsaicin application. We recruited 16 RA patients in remission or low disease activity state (mean age: 59.38 years [± 10.18]) and 16 healthy subjects (mean age: 56.69 years [± 8.92]). Results: The application of capsaicin cream on the thigh provoked a stronger effect in HS for both mechanical and heat pain thresholds (MPT and HPT, resp.), according to the area under the receiver operation characteristic (AUROC) (HS: HPT: 0.8965, MPT: 0.7402; RA: HPT: 0.7012, MPT: 0.6113). We observed contrary effects regarding changes in CHEPs (HS: g*max = - 0.65; RA patients: g*max = 0.72). Conclusion: As the overall effect of topical capsaicin application was higher in HS for QST, we suggest the existence of a sensitization of TRPV1 channels in RA patients caused by long-time chronical inflammation, despite a lack of clinical signs of inflammation due to adequate treatment. The effect in CHEPs probably uncovers neuropathic symptoms. The effect of topical capsaicin on HPTs and CHEPs can act as a marker for the extent of sensitization and the development of neuropathic symptoms. Further studies are needed to prove if our proposed method can act as a marker for the success of anti-inflammatory treatment.