HLA antigens and clinical features in a series of 46 Caucasian patients (40 females, 6 males) and definite repeatedly seronegative rheumatoid arthritis (RA) of more than two years' duration (mean 11.6 years) were compared with those in 77 seropositive RA patients and 110 controls of the same ethnic and geographic origin. Seronegative RA appeared to be less often erosive than seropositive RA, and seronegative patients had fewer extra-articular features. The frequency of the HLA antigen DR1 was raised in seronegative patients as compared with controls (p = 0.006, relative risk = 3) and with seropositive patients (p less than 0.05). HLA-DR4 was slightly increased in seronegative patients compared with controls (p less than 0.05) but was clearly less so than in seropositive patients (p less than 0.005). Early onset of disease was very significantly associated with HLA-DR1 in seronegative patients (p = 0.007), whereas HLA-DR4 was present more frequently in seropositive patients with onset prior to age 35 (p less than 0.05). No correlation between HLA antigens and intolerance to drugs was found in seronegative patients, whereas in seropositive patients side effects to gold salts were associated with DR3. These results suggest that seropositive and seronegative RA have distinct HLA-DR associations, especially in disease of early onset, in addition to well established clinical differences.
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