Objective: Findings of a recent study suggested that HLA-DRB1 alleles encoding the rheumatoid arthritis (RA) "shared epitope" (SE) were not predictive of erosive damage at 2 years in patients with early inflammatory arthritis who were rheumatoid factor (RF) positive, but were predictive in those who were RF negative. The present study was undertaken to determine whether RF status was also important in the association between the SE and radiographic outcome in patients with longstanding RA.
Methods: The association between radiographic outcome, HLA-DRBI, and RF status was examined in 299 RA patients with established disease (5-30 years). Radiographic outcome was measured by scoring radiographs of the hands and feet using the standard radiographs of Larsen. HLA-DRB1 typing was performed using polymerase chain reaction methodology. Results were stratified by RF status and analyzed by multiple regression.
Results: An association between radiographic severity and the SE was found in RF-, but not RF+, patients. RF- patients carrying an SE allele had higher Larsen scores than RF- patients lacking the SE, although there was no association with SE dosage. The mean Larsen score was significantly higher in RF+ patients than in RF- patients, but there were no differences between RF+ patients with 0, 1, or 2 SE alleles. Multiple regression analysis confirmed independent associations of RF and SE positivity with radiographic outcome. No significant associations were found between RF and the SE, or RF and individual SE alleles.
Conclusion: Our data indicate that RF and the SE are independently associated with radiographic outcome in RA. In RF+ patients with longstanding RA, there is no apparent association between the presence of the SE and radiographic damage. However, in RF-patients, although radiographic outcome is generally less severe, there is an association between severity and presence of the SE.