Introduction: Identification of patients who are in early stages of lupus is currently done through clinical evaluation and is not greatly facilitated by available diagnostic tests. Profiling for patient characteristics and antibody specificities that predict disease would enhance the ability of physicians to identify and treat early cases prior to onset of organ damaging illness.
Methods: A group of 22 patients with 4 or fewer diagnostic criteria for lupus were studied for changes in clinical and autoantibody profiles after a mean follow up period of 2.4 years. An array with more than 80 autoantigens was used to profile immunoglobulin G (IgG) and immunoglobulin M (IgM) autoantibodies. Correlations with clinical disease progression were examined.
Results: 3 of the 22 patients (14%) added sufficient criteria during follow up to satisfy a diagnosis of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) or to acquire a diagnosis of SLE renal disease. Patients who progressed were all females and were younger than those who did not progress (P=0.00054). IgG but not IgM autoreactivity showed greater increases in the progressor group than in the non-progressor group (P=0.047). IgG specificities that were higher at baseline in progressors included proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA), beta 2 microglobulin, C1q and hemocyanin (P<0.019). Progressors had significant increases in La/SSB and liver cytosol type 1 (LC1) IgG autoantibodies over the period of evaluation (P≤0.0072). A quantitative risk profile generated from baseline demographic and autoantibody variables yielded highly different scores for the progressor and non-progressor groups (P=1.38 × 10⁻⁷)
Conclusions: In addition to demographic features, autoantibody profiles using an expanded array of specificities were correlated with the risk of progressive disease in patients with lupus. These findings suggest the feasibility of developing a simple diagnostic that could be applied by nonspecialists to screen for lupus and permit effective triage for specialty care.