Objective: There are conflicting data concerning the role of HLA-DRB1 alleles in disease outcome in early rheumatoid arthritis. The exact role of these alleles in short-term outcome is determined in this large, prospective, population-based study.
Methods: We recruited 532 patients with inflammatory polyarthritis from the Norfolk Arthritis Register and typed their sera for HLA-DRB1 alleles using polymerase chain reaction-based methods. Disease outcome was assessed at 2 years in terms of persistent joint inflammation, functional disability, and radiologic erosions. Results are expressed as risk ratios (RR) with 95% confidence intervals (95% CI).
Results: There was no influence of HLA-DRB1 alleles, in any combination, on the likelihood of disease persistence, and only a modest effect on functional disability (Health Assessment Questionnaire score > or = 1). The most obvious effect was on the development of erosions (RR 1.9, 95% CI 1.4-2.6 for those who carried at least 1 DRB1 shared epitope [SE] allele), with slightly greater effects for those who were homozygous for SE-bearing alleles (RR 2.5, 95% CI 1.8-3.6). This effect of HLA-DRB1 was restricted to patients whose sera were negative for rheumatoid factor. Among patients with erosions, HLA-DRB1 had no influence on the severity of radiologic damage (defined as the number of eroded joints, or total Larsen score).
Conclusion: These data do not support routine HLA-DRB1 screening of patients with early arthritis to identify those at risk for subsequent severe disease.