Tumor Necrosis Factor Inhibitors May Have Limited Efficacy for Complex Perianal Fistulas Without Luminal Crohn’s Disease

  • Jeffrey D. McCurdyEmail author
  • Simon Parlow
  • Yvonne Dawkins
  • K. Samji
  • Glara Gaeun Rhee
  • Lilianna Oliveira
  • Blair Macdonald
  • Elham Sabri
  • Sanjay Murthy
Original Article



Complex perianal fistulas occurring in the absence of luminal inflammation (isolated perianal disease, IPD) may represent a specific phenotype of Crohn’s disease (CD).


We assessed the effectiveness of tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-antagonists in patients with IPD compared to those with perianal CD (PCD) with luminal inflammation.


Patients were identified through our institutional radiology database and were classified as PCD or IPD based on the presence or absence of luminal inflammation by ileocolonoscopy and abdominal enterography. Consecutive adults (> 17 years) with recurrent IPD who were treated with TNF antagonists were matched by age and gender to patients with complex PCD (1:2 ratio). Fistula remission was defined as an absence of fistula drainage. Surgery-free survival was assessed by Cox proportional hazard models.


Twenty-two patients with IPD treated with a TNF antagonist were compared with 44 matched patients with PCD. A similar proportion of patients with IPD and PCD were treated with concomitant immunomodulators (55% vs. 66%) and underwent examinations under anesthesia prior to therapy (36% vs. 46%). Fistula remission at 3, 6, and 12 months was lower for the IPD cohort: 9.5% versus 34%; 19% versus 39%; and 19% versus 43%. Surgical intervention after initiating anti-TNF therapy was more common for patients with IPD (HR 3.99: 95% CI, 1.62–9.83; p = 0.0026).


Fewer patients with IPD achieved fistula remission, and more required surgical intervention after anti-TNF therapy, suggesting that TNF antagonists may not be as effective in these patients.


Fistula-in-ano Cryptoglandular fistulas Perianal fistulas Tumor necrosis factor Crohn’s disease 


Author’s contribution

SP acquired and analyzed the data. YD and GR acquired the data. BM contributed to MRI analysis and critical review of the manuscript. LO and SM critically reviewed the manuscript. ES analyzed the data. JDM contributed to the study concept design, data analysis, and drafting of the manuscript. All authors have approved the final version of the manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

JD and SM: Honoraria from Takeda, Jansen, Abbvie, and Ferring.

Supplementary material

10620_2019_5905_MOESM1_ESM.docx (51 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 50 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Gastroenterology and HepatologyThe Ottawa HospitalOttawaCanada
  2. 2.Department of Medical ImagingThe Ottawa HospitalOttawaCanada
  3. 3.The Ottawa Hospital Research InstituteThe Ottawa HospitalOttawaCanada

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