Objective: To investigate time courses of autoantibody profiles in patients with early arthritis.
Patients and methods: A total of 200 patients with very early arthritis (<3 months duration), among them 102 patients with a final diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and 98 with other rheumatic diseases, were followed up for several years. First follow-up testing was performed in all patients (mean 5 months from baseline), and 82 patients with RA and 35 patients without RA were available for last follow-up testing (mean 32 months from baseline). IgM-rheumatoid factor (RF) was measured by nephelometry, IgA-RF, IgG-RF and anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide antibodies (ACPA) by ELISA, and anti-RA33 antibodies were determined by immunoblotting.
Results: At baseline, IgA-RF was detectable in 29% and IgG-RF in 14% of patients with RA while IgM-RF>50 IU/ml (RF50) was positive in 45% of the patients; specificities were 97%, 99% and 96%, respectively. However, the vast majority of patients positive for IgA-RF or IgG-RF were also positive for RF50 or ACPA. During follow-up, the prevalence of ACPA slightly increased while prevalence of all RF subtypes and anti-RA33 decreased. Remarkably, the number of patients positive for RF50 and/or ACPA remained constant, and these patients had a highly increased risk for developing erosive disease in contrast to patients solely positive for anti-RA33.
Conclusions: Testing for RF subtypes did not provide additional diagnostic information. Patients positive for RF50 and/or ACPA had an unfavourable prognosis, irrespectively of changes in the antibody profile during follow-up, whereas anti-RA33 positivity was inversely associated with erosiveness at baseline and at later time points.
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