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Machine learning identifies clusters of longitudinal autoantibody profiles predictive of systemic lupus erythematosus disease outcomes


Objectives A novel longitudinal clustering technique was applied to comprehensive autoantibody data from a large, well-characterised, multinational inception systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) cohort to determine profiles predictive of clinical outcomes.

Methods Demographic, clinical and serological data from 805 patients with SLE obtained within 15 months of diagnosis and at 3-year and 5-year follow-up were included. For each visit, sera were assessed for 29 antinuclear antibodies (ANA) immunofluorescence patterns and 20 autoantibodies. K-means clustering on principal component analysis-transformed longitudinal autoantibody profiles identified discrete phenotypic clusters. One-way analysis of variance compared cluster enrolment demographics and clinical outcomes at 10-year follow-up. Cox proportional hazards model estimated the HR for survival adjusting for age of disease onset.

Results Cluster 1 (n=137, high frequency of anti-Smith, anti-U1RNP, AC-5 (large nuclear speckled pattern) and high ANA titres) had the highest cumulative disease activity and immunosuppressants/biologics use at year 10. Cluster 2 (n=376, low anti-double stranded DNA (dsDNA) and ANA titres) had the lowest disease activity, frequency of lupus nephritis and immunosuppressants/biologics use. Cluster 3 (n=80, highest frequency of all five antiphospholipid antibodies) had the highest frequency of seizures and hypocomplementaemia. Cluster 4 (n=212) also had high disease activity and was characterised by multiple autoantibody reactivity including to antihistone, anti-dsDNA, antiribosomal P, anti-Sjögren syndrome antigen A or Ro60, anti-Sjögren syndrome antigen B or La, anti-Ro52/Tripartite Motif Protein 21, antiproliferating cell nuclear antigen and anticentromere B). Clusters 1 (adjusted HR 2.60 (95% CI 1.12 to 6.05), p=0.03) and 3 (adjusted HR 2.87 (95% CI 1.22 to 6.74), p=0.02) had lower survival compared with cluster 2.

Conclusion Four discrete SLE patient longitudinal autoantibody clusters were predictive of long-term disease activity, organ involvement, treatment requirements and mortality risk.

  • systemic lupus erythematosus
  • autoantibodies
  • autoimmunity

Data availability statement

Data are available on reasonable request. All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information.

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