The etiology of rheumatoid arthritis

J Autoimmun. 2020 Jun:110:102400. doi: 10.1016/j.jaut.2019.102400. Epub 2020 Jan 22.


Rheumatoid arthritis is a heterogeneous disease, which can be, based on data combining genetic risk factors and autoantibodies, sub-classified into ACPA-positive and -negative RA. Presence of ACPA and RF as well as rising CRP-levels in some patients years before onset of clinical symptoms indicate that relevant immune responses for RA development are initiated very early. ACPA are highly specific for RA, whereas RF can also be found among healthy (elderly) individuals and patients with other autoimmune diseases or infection. The most important genetic risk factor for RA development, the shared epitope alleles, resides in the MHC class II region. Shared epitope alleles, however, only predispose to the development of ACPA-positive RA. Smoking is thus far the most important environmental risk factor associated with the development of RA. Studies on synovitis have shown the importance not only of adaptive but also of innate immune responses. In summary of the various results from immunological changes in blood and synovial tissue, the extension of the immune response from a diffuse myeloid to a lympho-myeloid inflammation appears to be associated with a more successful therapeutic response to biologics. With respect to advances in synovitis research, new targets for treatment against pathological subsets of immune cells or fibroblasts are already on the horizon. However, alternative strategies involving the microbiome may play an important role as well and research in this field is growing rapidly.

Keywords: ACPA; AMPA; Etiology; Microbiome; Pathogenesis; Rheumatoid arthritis; Rheumatoid factor; Synovitis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / diagnosis
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / etiology*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / metabolism
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / therapy
  • Autoantibodies / immunology
  • Autoantigens / immunology
  • Autoimmunity
  • Biomarkers
  • Disease Susceptibility*
  • Environment
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Microbiota
  • Prognosis
  • Rheumatoid Factor / blood
  • Rheumatoid Factor / metabolism
  • Risk Factors


  • Autoantibodies
  • Autoantigens
  • Biomarkers
  • Rheumatoid Factor