HLA-DRB1 alleles associated with rheumatoid arthritis in Northern Italy: correlation with disease severity

Br J Rheumatol. 1998 Feb;37(2):165-9. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/37.2.165.


The aim of the study was to evaluate the relationship between the presence of the 'rheumatoid epitope', defined by a sequence motif in the HLA-DRB1 alleles, rheumatoid factor and disease severity in Northern Italian patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Twenty-nine DR4-positive and 57 DR4-negative RA patients were studied. Each DR4-positive patient was matched with two DR4-negative controls of similar disease duration and sex. HLA-DRB1 alleles were determined in the 86 patients and 351 controls from the same geographical area. The patients were retrospectively evaluated for extra-articular features (EAF) and radiographic damage. The rheumatoid epitope was expressed in 45% of patients. No significant differences in the presence of rheumatoid factor, EAF and articular damage were observed between patients with no, one or two doses of epitope. However, the patients encoding the epitope by an HLA-DR4 allele had a higher number of eroded joints and a higher Larsen score compared to those without the epitope. No differences were present between patients expressing HLA-DRB1*01 alleles and those lacking the rheumatoid epitope. Even in the absence of expression of the rheumatoid epitope, seropositive patients had more EAF and more erosive disease compared to those who were seronegative. Even if most Northern Italian RA patients do not express the rheumatoid epitope, the radiological severity of disease is associated with HLA-DRB1*04 alleles.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Alleles*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / blood
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / diagnostic imaging
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / genetics*
  • DNA / analysis
  • Female
  • Gene Frequency / genetics
  • Genes, MHC Class II / genetics
  • HLA-DR Antigens / genetics*
  • HLA-DRB1 Chains
  • Humans
  • Italy
  • Male
  • Metacarpophalangeal Joint / diagnostic imaging
  • Metacarpophalangeal Joint / pathology
  • Middle Aged
  • Radiography
  • Rheumatoid Factor / blood
  • Severity of Illness Index


  • HLA-DR Antigens
  • HLA-DRB1 Chains
  • DNA
  • Rheumatoid Factor