Introduction: Although the role of platelets in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is relatively unexplored, recent studies point towards a contribution of platelets in arthritis. We set out to determine platelet phenotype in RA and studied whether this could be influenced by the presence of anti-citrullinated protein antibodies (ACPA).
Methods: Platelets from healthy controls were incubated in the presence of plasma of patients with RA or age- and sex-matched healthy controls and plasma from ACPA(neg) or ACPA(pos) patients or in the presence of plate-bound ACPA. Characteristics of platelets isolated from patients with RA were correlated to disease activity.
Results: Platelets isolated from healthy controls displayed markers of platelet activation in the presence of plasma derived from RA patients, as determined by P-selectin expression, formation of aggregates and secretion of soluble CD40 ligand (sCD40L). Furthermore, levels of P-selectin expression and sCD40L release correlated with high ACPA titres. In accordance with these findings, enhanced platelet activation was observed after incubation with ACPA(pos) plasma versus ACPA(neg) plasma. Pre-incubation of platelets with blocking antibodies directed against low-affinity immunoglobulin G receptor (FcγRIIa) completely inhibited the ACPA-mediated activation. In addition, expression of P-selectin measured as number of platelets correlated with Disease Activity Score in 44 joints, C-reactive protein level, ACPA status and ACPA level.
Conclusions: We show for the first time that ACPA can mediate an FcγRIIa-dependent activation of platelets. As ACPA can be detected several years before RA disease onset and activated platelets contribute to vascular permeability, these data implicate a possible role for ACPA-mediated activation of platelets in arthritis onset.