Modular analysis of peripheral blood gene expression in rheumatoid arthritis captures reproducible gene expression changes in tumor necrosis factor responders

Arthritis Rheumatol. 2015 Feb;67(2):344-51. doi: 10.1002/art.38947.


Objective: To establish whether the analysis of whole-blood gene expression is useful in predicting or monitoring response to anti-tumor necrosis factor (anti-TNF) therapy in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Methods: Whole-blood RNA (using a PAXgene system to stabilize whole-blood RNA in the collection tube) was obtained at baseline and at 14 weeks from 3 independent cohorts, consisting of a combined total of 240 RA patients who were beginning therapy with anti-TNF. We used an approach to gene expression analysis that is based on modular patterns of gene expression, or modules.

Results: Good and moderate responders according to the European League Against Rheumatism criteria exhibited highly significant and consistent changes in multiple gene expression modules after 14 weeks of therapy, as demonstrated by hypergeometric analysis. Strikingly, nonresponders exhibited very little change in any modules, despite exposure to TNF blockade. These patterns of change were highly consistent across all 3 cohorts, indicating that immunologic changes after TNF treatment are specific to the combination of both drug exposure and responder status. In contrast, modular patterns of gene expression did not exhibit consistent differences between responders and nonresponders at baseline in the 3 study cohorts.

Conclusion: These data provide evidence that using gene expression modules related to inflammatory disease may provide a valuable method for objective monitoring of the response of RA patients who are treated with TNF inhibitors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adalimumab
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / pharmacology
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / therapeutic use
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized / pharmacology
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized / therapeutic use
  • Antirheumatic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antirheumatic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / blood
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / genetics*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Etanercept
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects*
  • Gene Expression Regulation / genetics
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin G / pharmacology
  • Immunoglobulin G / therapeutic use
  • Infliximab
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prospective Studies
  • RNA / blood*
  • RNA / genetics
  • Receptors, Tumor Necrosis Factor / therapeutic use
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / antagonists & inhibitors*


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antirheumatic Agents
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Receptors, Tumor Necrosis Factor
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • RNA
  • golimumab
  • Infliximab
  • Adalimumab
  • Etanercept