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Rheumatoid factor determines structural progression of rheumatoid arthritis dependent and independent of disease activity.

BACKGROUND: Rheumatoid factor (RF) is prototypic for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and serves diagnostic and prognostic purposes. RF is associated with joint destruction, but the role of disease activity as a potential mediator of these effects has not been clearly elucidated yet.

OBJECTIVE: To investigate if higher radiographic progression (Sharp score, ΔTSS) in RF+ patients is dependent or independent of disease activity.

METHODS: The authors performed a cross-sectional multivariate analysis at baseline and a matched cohort study in patients from five RA clinical trials. The authors pooled methotrexate treatment arms and compared ΔTSS in RF+ and RF- patients before and after matching for other associated variables.

RESULTS: Among 686 patients, 124 were RF- and 562 RF+, 343 having high (>160 U/ml) RF. ΔTSS was 1.03±5.83, 3.23±8.10 and 3.58±8.18 (p<0.0001), respectively, and similarly for erosions and joint space narrowing (JSN). After matching for other prognostically important variables, ΔTSS still was lower among 61 RF- versus 61 RF high+ patients (0.52±2.47 vs 3.09±8.28; p=0.028), mainly related to differences in erosion score (0.31±1.88 vs 2.07±5.62; p=0.035), but not JSN (0.21±1.26 vs 1.02±3.31; p=0.162).

CONCLUSIONS: The data reveal that damage progression in seropositive RA patients is related to higher levels of disease activity and to independent effects of RF, particularly on bone damage. This calls for consideration of RF status irrespective of disease activity.

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