Fifty seven patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) were studied longitudinally, and the presence of rheumatoid factor (RF) and various types of immune complexes (IC) was correlated with joint activity and the presence of extra-articular features (EAF). In a cross sectional study it was found that the levels of circulating IC and RF correlated significantly with joint disease activity and the presence of EAF. Longitudinally, levels of IC measured by the C1q binding activity and IC containing IgG and IgM correlated significantly with fluctuations in joint disease activity, whereas IC containing IgG and IgA correlated with the occurrence of EAF. RF and IC levels, however, did not predict the clinical course of the disease. IC containing C3 and C4 were found infrequently and were only present in patients with active rheumatoid vasculitis (RV). The continuous presence of these IC appeared to be linked to the recurrence of vasculitis, irrespective of treatment. Significantly more erosions of hands and feet were found after one year follow up in those RA patients who presented early (disease duration less than one year) who initially had a raised serum IgA IC level (r = 0.72; p less than 0.005).
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