Findings from an ongoing study of individuals with seropositive arthralgia, as well as from numerous other ongoing research efforts, suggest that it will soon be possible to predict a future rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis, according to Douglas J. Veale, MD.
Evidence also suggests that disease onset can be delayed, and that there is potential for disease prevention in those cases,
Cellular and molecular profiling of RA risk
Dr. Veale’s current research focuses on patients presenting with joint pain but no joint swelling or clinical evidence of soft tissue swelling, who are found to be seropositive for anticitrullinated protein antibodies (ACPA) and/or rheumatoid factor (RF).
“We have termed these patients [as having] ‘seropositive arthralgia,’ and we started a study in our institution because we started seeing more of these patients being referred in by the general practitioners,” said Dr. Veale, who is also director of translational research at the Dublin Academic Medical Centre of University College Dublin.
The aim of the study is to biopsy synovial tissue obtained during knee joint arthroscopy (which has been shown in prior studies to provide the same synovial findings as can be obtained through wrist and ankle biopsies) and to assess cellular and molecular profiles and clinical outcomes in these subjects, he said.
Of 36 seropositive arthralgia patients recruited to date, 22 are women, and 19 developed RA by 2010 ACR criteria within 12 months; most of those did so within 2-3 months, he said.
Median swollen joint counts were zero, and tender joint counts were slightly raised (median = 0, interquartile range = 0-4) in the subjects at baseline. Overall, 82% were RF positive, 91% were ACPA positive, and 73% were both RF and ACPA positive.
“The median [C-reactive protein (CRP) level] was 3 [mg/dL] with a range of 2-7, so most of these are normal when they’re coming to see us,” he said.
The level of synovitis seen on knee arthroscopy was a median of 60 on a visual analog scale of 0-100.
“So the level of synovitis that we’re seeing is certainly over a median of 50%,” he added.
Of 22 patients who were followed for at least 1 year – including the 19 who developed RA – none were on therapy at baseline, and none had CRP over 5 mg/dL at baseline. Two of the 19 who later developed RA elected to begin treatment before they developed the disease – one with hydroxychloroquine and one with methotrexate – and treatment was initiated in the remaining 17 RA patients as soon as they met the ACR RA criteria. Currently, 14 are on synthetic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), and 5 are on biologic DMARDs. Overall, 13 of the 22 patients followed for 1 year have no disease activity, 5 have low disease activity, and 4 have moderate disease activity, he said.
One question addressed in this study is whether immunostaining predicts arthritis, Dr. Veale noted.
“The short answer is ‘no,’ ” he said, explaining that activated T and B cells are seen in the biopsies of subjects who remain as seropositive arthralgia patients, and also in patients who actually develop RA. “So the immunohistology of these biopsies is not telling us a great deal.”