Objectives: A perception derived from cross-sectional studies of small systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) cohorts is that there is a marked discrepancy between antinuclear antibody (ANA) assays, which impacts on clinicians' approach to diagnosis and follow-up. We compared three ANA assays in a longitudinal analysis of a large international incident SLE cohort retested regularly and followed for 5 years.
Methods: Demographic, clinical and serological data was from 805 SLE patients at enrolment, year 3 and 5. Two HEp-2 indirect immunofluorescence assays (IFA1, IFA2), an ANA ELISA, and SLE-related autoantibodies were performed in one laboratory. Frequencies of positivity, titres or absorbance units (AU), and IFA patterns were compared using McNemar, Wilcoxon and kappa statistics, respectively.
Results: At enrolment, ANA positivity (≥1:80) was 96.1% by IFA1 (median titre 1:1280 (IQR 1:640-1:5120)), 98.3% by IFA2 (1:2560 (IQR 1:640-1:5120)) and 96.6% by ELISA (176.3 AU (IQR 106.4 AU-203.5 AU)). At least one ANA assay was positive for 99.6% of patients at enrolment. At year 5, ANA positivity by IFAs (IFA1 95.2%; IFA2 98.9%) remained high, while there was a decrease in ELISA positivity (91.3%, p<0.001). Overall, there was >91% agreement in ANA positivity at all time points and ≥71% agreement in IFA patterns between IFA1 and IFA2.
Conclusion: In recent-onset SLE, three ANA assays demonstrated commutability with a high proportion of positivity and titres or AU. However, over 5 years follow-up, there was modest variation in ANA assay performance. In clinical situations where the SLE diagnosis is being considered, a negative test by either the ELISA or HEp-2 IFA may require reflex testing.
Keywords: Autoantibodies; Autoimmunity; Systemic Lupus Erythematosus.
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