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The extent of the anti-citrullinated protein antibody repertoire is associated with arthritis development in patients with seropositive arthralgia


Objectives To determine the fine specificity of anti-citrullinated protein antibodies (ACPA) in the early phase of arthritis development, the ACPA repertoire in arthralgia patients and the association with arthritis development were studied.

Methods A total of 244 patients with arthralgia positive for anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide antibodies (aCCPs) and/or IgM rheumatoid factor (IgM-RF), without arthritis were included. Development of arthritis was defined as presence of one or more swollen joints at clinical examination during follow-up. Sera were tested at baseline for reactivity to five citrullinated peptides derived from fibrinogen (three), vimentin (one) and α-enolase (one) and five corresponding arginine peptides in an ELISA.

Results In all, 69 patients (28%) developed arthritis in a median of 3 joints after a median follow-up of 11 (IQR 5–20) months. Reactivity to each peptide was significantly associated with arthritis development (p<0.001). The ACPA repertoire did not differ between patients who did or did not develop arthritis. Among aCCP-positive patients, patients recognising two or more additional citrullinated peptides developed arthritis more often (p=0.04). The number of recognised peptides was positively associated with the aCCP level (p<0.001). Crossreactivity between different peptides was minimal.

Conclusions Arthritis development is not associated with recognition of a specific citrullinated peptide once joint complaints are present. The ACPA repertoire in some patients with arthralgia is expanded. High aCCP levels are associated with a qualitatively broad ACPA repertoire. Patients with an extended ACPA repertoire have a higher risk of developing arthritis.

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