Adipokines are important regulators of several processes, including inflammation and atherosclerosis. In patients with systemic autoimmune diseases, atherosclerosis is accelerated with higher cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. We prospectively investigated the association of adipokines and glucocorticoid therapy with progression of premature atherosclerosis in 38 patients starting glucocorticoid therapy for systemic autoimmune diseases. To detect premature atherosclerosis, carotid ultrasonography was performed at initiation of glucocorticoid therapy and after a mean three-year follow-up period. The ankle-brachial pressure index and cardio-ankle vascular index (CAVI) were measured. Serum adipokine levels were determined with enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay kits. Twenty-three patients (60.5%) had carotid artery plaque at baseline. The carotid artery intima-media thickness (IMT) increased significantly during follow-up. Glucocorticoids reduced the serum resistin level, while increasing serum leptin and high molecular weight-adiponectin. There was slower progression of atherosclerosis (carotid IMT and CAVI) at follow-up in patients with greater reduction of serum resistin and with higher cumulative prednisolone dose. In conclusion, progression of premature atherosclerosis occurred at an early stage of systemic autoimmune diseases before initiation of glucocorticoid therapy. Since resistin, an inflammation and atherosclerosis related adipokine, is reduced by glucocorticoids, glucocortidoid therapy may not accelerate atherosclerosis in patients with systemic autoimmune diseases.
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