Clinical predictors of response to methotrexate in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a machine learning approach using clinical trial data

Arthritis Res Ther. 2022 Jul 1;24(1):162. doi: 10.1186/s13075-022-02851-5.


Background: Methotrexate is the preferred initial disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD) for rheumatoid arthritis (RA). However, clinically useful tools for individualized prediction of response to methotrexate treatment in patients with RA are lacking. We aimed to identify clinical predictors of response to methotrexate in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) using machine learning methods.

Methods: Randomized clinical trials (RCT) of patients with RA who were DMARD-naïve and randomized to placebo plus methotrexate were identified and accessed through the Clinical Study Data Request Consortium and Vivli Center for Global Clinical Research Data. Studies with available Disease Activity Score with 28-joint count and erythrocyte sedimentation rate (DAS28-ESR) at baseline and 12 and 24 weeks were included. Latent class modeling of methotrexate response was performed. The least absolute shrinkage and selection operator (LASSO) and random forests methods were used to identify predictors of response.

Results: A total of 775 patients from 4 RCTs were included (mean age 50 years, 80% female). Two distinct classes of patients were identified based on DAS28-ESR change over 24 weeks: "good responders" and "poor responders." Baseline DAS28-ESR, anti-citrullinated protein antibody (ACPA), and Health Assessment Questionnaire (HAQ) score were the top predictors of good response using LASSO (area under the curve [AUC] 0.79) and random forests (AUC 0.68) in the external validation set. DAS28-ESR ≤ 7.4, ACPA positive, and HAQ ≤ 2 provided the highest likelihood of response. Among patients with 12-week DAS28-ESR > 3.2, ≥ 1 point improvement in DAS28-ESR baseline-to-12-week was predictive of achieving DAS28-ESR ≤ 3.2 at 24 weeks.

Conclusions: We have developed and externally validated a prediction model for response to methotrexate within 24 weeks in DMARD-naïve patients with RA, providing variably weighted clinical features and defined cutoffs for clinical decision-making.

Keywords: Machine learning; Methotrexate; Rheumatoid arthritis; Treatment.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antirheumatic Agents* / therapeutic use
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid* / diagnosis
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid* / drug therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Machine Learning
  • Male
  • Methotrexate / therapeutic use
  • Middle Aged
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antirheumatic Agents
  • Methotrexate