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Objective Presence and levels of antibodies contribute to the classification of rheumatoid arthritis. We investigated the longitudinal course of anti-citrullinated protein antibodies (ACPA) and immunoglobin M (IgM) rheumatoid factor (RF) during the first year after arthritis onset in patients with very short disease duration.
Methods Patients (aged 18-75 years) with ≥ 1 swollen joint of ≤ 16 weeks’ duration had assessments of ACPA (2nd generation anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide antibodies, anti-CCP2) and IgM RF at inclusion and after 3, 6, and 12 months. Frequencies of seroconversions (negative to positive and vice versa) and changes in antibody levels during followup were determined.
Results A total of 281 early arthritis patients (median duration of joint swelling 32 days, 14.2% ACPA positives, 12.8% IgM RF positives) with 978 longitudinally collected serum samples were included. Only 5 patients (1.8%) negative for both antibodies at baseline turned antibody-positive during followup, while 9 antibody-positive patients (3.2%) turned antibody-negative. ACPA was more stable than RF regarding both status and levels.
Conclusion Antibody status (ACPA/RF) is a stable phenotype in very early arthritis, as seroconversion was only found in 5% of patients. Repeated measurement of ACPA or RF during the first year after onset of arthritis does not offer major additional information.