Article Text

Download PDFPDF
What is axial spondyloarthritis? A latent class and transition analysis in the SPACE and DESIR cohorts
  1. Alexandre Sepriano1,2,
  2. Sofia Ramiro1,3,
  3. Désirée van der Heijde1,
  4. Floris van Gaalen1,
  5. Pierre Hoonhout4,
  6. Anna Molto5,6,
  7. Alain Saraux7,
  8. Roberta Ramonda8,
  9. Maxime Dougados5,6,
  10. Robert Landewé3,9
  1. 1 Department of Rheumatology, Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, The Netherlands
  2. 2 NOVA Medical School, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Lisbon, Portugal
  3. 3 Zuyderland Medical Centre Heerlen, Heerlen, The Netherlands
  4. 4 Lisbon School of Economics and Management, Lisbon, Portugal
  5. 5 Department of Rheumatology, Hôpital Cochin. Assistance Publique - Hôpitaux de Paris, Paris, France
  6. 6 Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, INSERM U1153, Paris, France
  7. 7 Rheumatology Unit and UMR1227, Lymphocytes B et Autoimmunit, Université de Brest, Brest, France
  8. 8 Rheumatology Unit, Department of Medicine DIMED, University of Padova, Padova, Italy
  9. 9 Amsterdam University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  1. Correspondence to Professor Robert Landewé, Amsterdam University Medical Centres, Amsterdam 1105 AZ, Netherlands; landewe{at}


Objectives To gain expert-judgement-free insight into the Gestalt of axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA), by investigating its ‘latent constructs’ and to test how well these latent constructs fit the Assessment of SpondyloArthritis international Society (ASAS) classification criteria.

Methods Two independent cohorts of patients with early onset chronic back pain (SPondyloArthritis Caught Early (SPACE)) or inflammatory back pain (IBP) (DEvenir des Spondylarthopathies Indifférenciées Récentes (DESIR)) were analysed. Latent class analysis (LCA) was used to estimate the (unobserved) potential classes underlying axSpA. The best LCA model groups patients into clinically meaningful classes with best fit. Each class was labelled based on most prominent features. Percentage fulfilment of ASAS axSpA, peripheral SpA (pSpA) (ignoring IBP) or both classification criteria was calculated. Five-year data from DESIR were used to perform latent transition analysis (LTA) to examine if patients change classes over time.

Results SPACE (n=465) yielded four discernible classes: ‘axial’ with highest likelihood of abnormal imaging and HLA-B27 positivity; ‘IBP+peripheral’ with 100% IBP and dominant peripheral symptoms; ‘at risk’ with positive family history and HLA-B27 and ‘no SpA’ with low likelihood for each SpA feature. LCA in DESIR (n=576) yielded similar classes, except for the ‘no-SpA’. The ASAS axSpA criteria captured almost all (SPACE: 98%; DESIR: 93%) ‘axial’ patients, but the ‘IBP+peripheral’ class was only captured well by combining the axSpA and pSpA criteria (SPACE: 78%; DESIR: 89%). Only 4% of ‘no SpA’ patients fulfilled the axSpA criteria in SPACE. LTA suggested that 5-year transitions across classes were unlikely (11%).

Conclusion The Gestalt of axSpA comprises three discernible entities, only appropriately captured by combining the ASAS axSpA and pSpA classification criteria. It is questionable whether some patients with ‘axSpA at risk’ will ever develop axSpA.

  • axial spondyloarthritis
  • diagnosis
  • classification criteria

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • Handling editor Josef S Smolen

  • Twitter @AlexSepriano, @sofiaramiro82, @annamolto

  • Contributors AS, SR, DvdH and RBML designed the study. AS performed the statistical analyses. AS wrote the first draft of the manuscript. All authors critically interpreted the results, reviewed the draft version and approved the final manuscript.

  • Funding The DESIR study is conducted as a Programme Hospitalier de Recherche Clinique with Assistance Publique Hopitaux de Paris as the sponsor. The DESIR study is also under the umbrella of the French Society of Rheumatology, which financially supports the cohort. An unrestricted grant from Pfizer has been allocated for the first 10 years. The DESIR cohort is conducted under the control of Assistance publique Hopitaux de Paris via the Clinical Research Unit Paris Centre and under the umbrella of the French Society of Rheumatology and Institut national de la sante et de la recherche medicale (Inserm). Database management is performed within the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics (Professeur Jean-Pierre Daures, D.I.M., Nımes, France). AS is supported by a doctoral grant from 'Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia' (SFRH/BD/108246/2015).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval The study was conducted according to Good Clinical Practice guidelines and approved by the appropriate local ethical committees. Written informed consent was obtained from participating patients before inclusion.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information.