Objective. To identify prognostic markers that are predictive of progressive erosive disease in patients with early rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Methods. The study involved an inception cohort of 111 consecutive patients with RA and a disease duration of <1 year. Patients were treated according to an algorithm designed to avoid overtreatment of mild disease and to accelerate treatment in patients who had continuous disease activity. Patients were evaluated for the presence of clinical and laboratory disease activity markers. We determined the frequency of CD4+, CD28null T cells by flow cytometry, HLA-DRB1 gene polymorphisms by polymerase chain reaction (PCR)/sequencing, and 26 single-nucleotide polymorphisms in 19 candidate genes by multiplex PCR and hybridization to an immobilized probe array. Data were analyzed using proportional odds models to identify prognostic markers predictive of erosive progression over 2 years on serial hand/wrist radiographs. Results. After 2 years, disease activity in 52% of the cohort was controlled by treatment with hydroxychloroquine and nonsteroidal agents. Forty-eight percent of the patients did not develop erosions. Older age, presence of erosions at baseline, presence of rheumatoid factor, rheumatoid factor titer, and HLA-DRB1*04 alleles, particularly homozygosity for HLA-DRB1*04, were univariate predictors of radiographic progression. Promising novel markers were the frequency of CD4+, CD28null T cells as an immunosenescence indicator, and a polymorphism in the uteroglobin gene. Conclusion. Clinical disease activity in patients with early RA can frequently be controlled with nonaggressive treatment, but this is not always sufficient to prevent new erosions. Rheumatoid factor titer, HLA-DRB1 polymorphisms, age, and immunosenescence markers are predictors of poor radiographic outcome. A polymorphism in the uteroglobin gene may identify patients who have a low risk of erosive disease.
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