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Gastroenterology Review/Przegląd Gastroenterologiczny
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vol. 11
Original paper

The impact of induction therapy with three doses of infliximab on deep histological healing in paediatric patients with active Crohn’s disease

Edyta Szymanska
Maciej Dadalski
Sylwia Szymanska
Wieslawa Grajkowska
Maciej Pronicki
Jaroslaw Kierkus

Gastroenterology Rev 2016; 11 (3): 176–180
Online publish date: 2016/02/08
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Crohn’s disease (CD) is an inflammatory condition of unknown etiology, which is classified in the inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) group along with ulcerative colitis (UC) [1, 2]. Since the pathogenesis of this condition has not been established yet, there is no causal treatment for CD [3]. Consequently, the goals of both the pharmacotherapy and surgical management are limited to obtaining the longest possible remission and preventing a relapse [4, 5]. However, in recent years a novel biologic therapy with monoclonal antibodies against tumor necrosis factor (TNF)- has revolutionised the treatment of IBD [6, 7]. Biologic agents such as infliximab (IFX) and adalimumab (ADA) have been demonstrated to improve to a considerable degree both the clinical and endoscopic variables [8–10]. Therefore, the “ideal” treatment of CD should not only suppress symptoms, but if at all possible, additionally heal mucosal lesions [11]. Since mucosal healing (MH) might be the only way to alter the disease course in IBD patients, new guidelines recommend that it should be the ultimate endpoint in clinical trials [12]. In CD deep remission has recently been defined as Crohn’s Disease Activity Index (CDAI) < 150 and complete MH [13]. However, in the near future the concept of deep remission might include microscopic-histological healing in CD. It has been suggested that ‘deep’ remission, i.e. beyond the control of clinical symptoms, might ultimately have an impact on important long-term outcomes such as the need for surgery and the development of disability [14, 15]. However, there have been studies demonstrating little correlation between endoscopic MH and clinical remission of the disease, as determined by the Crohn’s disease activity index (PCDAI) [16, 17]. Moreover, endoscopic evidence of mucosal healing was not necessarily associated with histological evidence of suppression of inflammation [18, 19]. Nonetheless, it must be stressed that in CD histological assessment of mucosal healing is the only way to establish in an objective manner the reversion of the mucosa to a normal state [20]. Nonetheless, deep histological remission is at present not recommended as a primary endpoint for therapeutic trials because of the lack of a standardised approach.


Therefore, since there are no data on deep histological remission in children with CD, the aim of this study was to verify the impact of induction therapy with IFX on mucosal healing with particular consideration paid to microscopic improvement.

Material and methods

A retrospective analysis of patients diagnosed with CD and treated with biologic therapy with IFX at the Department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Feeding Disorders, Children’s Memorial Health Institute was performed. The analysis included an 8-year period of time – between 2005 and 2013. Detailed characteristics of the analysed patients are presented in Table I.
The primary objective of this study was to evaluate the clinical, endoscopic, and microscopic activity of the disease in our patients prior to treatment (baseline) and after induction therapy (endpoint) with three doses of IFX. Disease activity was evaluated using PCDAI, which takes into account both clinical and biochemical parameters. Clinical remission was defined as PCDAI < 10. Selected endoscopic parameters (ulcer size, ulcerated and affected surfaces, stenosis) were scored from zero to three using the Simple endoscopic scale for Crohn's disease (SES-CD). Mucosal healing was defined as a complete absence of ulcers or a significant decrease in SES-CD as a sign of inflammatory lesion decrease in the presence of ulcerated surfaces, while stationary endoscopic features stood for the lack of progression or regression. Histological changes were precisely described and evaluated using a previously described numerical scoring system for CD, which was adopted for the purpose of this study (Table II). Deep microscopic remission was defined as a complete absence of inflammation in histological examination or a significant decrease in the scoring of the histological scale. Stationary microscopic features were considered as the lack of progression or regression.

Statistical analysis

The proportion of patients in clinical response and in clinical remission at week 10 was assessed. All analyses were based on a per-protocol principle. The Wilcoxon test was used to compare quantitative variables, and p < 0.05 was regarded as significant. Scorings in SES-CD and histological grading scale were used as two independent variables in the analysis of discrimination between the group with clinical response and the group with no response.


Thirty-nine (69.6%) patients reached clinical remission; 17 (30.4%) children either did not respond to the therapy (11.8%) or did not enter full remission (88.2%). When comparing data at baseline and at week 10, a significant decrease was observed in median PCDAI (baseline median (interquartile range) 55 (40.0–85.0) vs. 7.5 (2.5–40.0) at week 10) (Figure 1), and in SES-CD score between the initial and control colonoscopies (10.0 (0.0–32.0) vs. 5.0 (0.0–23.0)) (Figure 2). Nine out of 56 patients had a score of 0 in control endoscopy vs. 3 out of 56 in initial colonoscopy. A decrease in histological score was reported (5.5 (0.0–10.0) vs. 4.0 (0.0–12.0)). However, the difference was not statistically significant (p = 0.63) (Figure 3). Three (5.4.%) patients had a score of 0 in the control histological examination.
Only SES-CD score had a significant impact on discrimination between the group with clinical remission vs. no remission, while histological changes did not discriminate significantly between those two groups. A correlation was found between histological score and SES-CD score.


The aim of this study was to provide evidence of a successful induction therapy with IFX as regards mucosal healing and deep remission expressed by histological-intestinal healing in children with moderate to severe CD. Current data on the mucosal effects of IFX are limited in the case of paediatric CD. This study was the first one to assess the impact of any (not only biologic) therapy on deep histological remission in children with CD. A few studies have been carried out on biological agents, but so far the only parameters by which treatment efficacy was assessed have been clinical remission and MH [8, 9, 21]. However, endoscopic remission differs from histological remission [22], which unfortunately is difficult to assess in CD because inflammation in this type of IBD tends to be patchy, resulting in the need for multiple biopsies for evaluation. Moreover, a universally accepted histological system for grading inflammation in CD is lacking. Therefore, we decided to develop a self-adapted numerical scoring system for CD, based on the score of 0-3 of the following five segments of intestine: terminal ileum and caecum, right colon, transverse colon, left colon, and rectum. We are aware of certain limitations of that method. First of all, the scale has not been validated, and secondly, a patchy pattern of inflammation in CD makes microscopic evaluation difficult. Nonetheless, we assumed that a numerical system would be clearer and would better reflect histological changes than a traditional descriptive protocol. Infliximab has been proven to induce and maintain MH in the ACCENT 1 trial [23]. In our previous studies, we also demonstrated that biological therapy with IFX enabled mucosal healing in paediatric patients with CD [8]. Currently, however, the concept of deep remission might include also microscopic-histological healing in IBD. Crohn’s disease, contrary to UC, is a transmural disease, and mucosal healing may not be sufficient even though the mucosa may return to almost normal after treatment. Deeply situated lesions may persist, and endoscopy with biopsy may not assess the deeper layers of the intestine [24]. That is why endoscopic evidence of mucosal healing is not necessarily associated with histological evidence of suppressed inflammation. Data on deep remission in CD are sparse. D’Haens et al. investigated histological healing in 30 CD patients treated with IFX in a placebo-controlled trial. After induction therapy with three doses of either 5, 10, or 20 mg/kg of IFX or placebo as a single infusion, inflammatory infiltrate disappeared only in IFX-treated patients, but architectural changes persisted in most of them [25]. Another study by the same group evaluated the effects of a single infusion of IFX in 15 patients with steroid-refractory CD. Histological activity scores, assessed at 4 weeks after infusion, showed (in comparison to placebo) a significant decrease mainly due to the reduction of inflammatory activity [26]. In our study, biological therapy with three induction doses of IFX resulted in macroscopic but not necessarily microscopic remission; the decrease in histological score was statistically insignificant (p = 0.63). Moreover, MH correlated better than microscopic healing with clinical remission. Taking into consideration that, as reported above, true histological healing may be obtained in only about 30% of treated patients, and that our paediatric patients presented mostly with severely active CD, better outcomes should rather not be expected. We are entirely aware of certain limitations of our study, such as retrospective analysis. However, the main value of our study assessing the impact of induction therapy with IFX on deep histological remission in children pertains to its novelty. It is the first such large study conducted on a paediatric population. The analysed cohort is greater even than the group of adults analysed so far by D’Haens. Additionally, the number of clinical trials and original papers dealing with deep remission in CD is limited. Furthermore, they did not focus on children. Such studies are difficult to perform because of the lack of a standardised approach. Therefore, additional studies searching for optimal sampling, standardising scores, and features should be performed.


According to our results, biological therapy with IFX is effective to achieve MH but not deep histological remission in paediatric patients with moderate to severely active CD. Mucosal healing correlated better than microscopic healing with clinical remission. Therefore, it seems that macroscopic remission expressed by MH together with clinical remission should remain the main endpoints of therapy because histological healing is difficult to assess due to the lack of optimal sampling and standardising scores.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Received: 9.03.2015
Accepted: 7.05.2015
Copyright: © 2016 Termedia Sp. z o. o. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/), allowing third parties to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format and to remix, transform, and build upon the material, provided the original work is properly cited and states its license.
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