Background: Disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD)-free remission, the sustained absence of synovitis after DMARD cessation, is increasingly achievable, especially in autoantibody-negative rheumatoid arthritis (RA). However, underlying mechanisms are unknown and patient subgroups that achieve this outcome are insufficiently characterized. We evaluated whether serological biomarkers at disease onset, as measured within the multibiomarker disease activity (MBDA) score, are differently expressed in RA patients who achieve sustained DMARDfree remission. Methods: Two hundred ninety-nine RA patients were evaluated for achievement of sustained DMARD-free remission during a median follow-up of 4.3 years. Twelve biomarkers, as included in the MBDA score, were determined from the serum obtained at disease onset. Patients were categorized as having a low (< 30), moderate (30–44) or high (> 44) score. Analyses were stratified for anti-citrullinated protein antibodies (ACPA) based under the assumption that ACPApositive and ACPA-negative RA are different disease entities. Results: Twenty percent achieved sustained DMARD-free remission. Overall, high MBDA scores were associated with achieving DMARD-free remission (high vs. low HR 3.8, 95% CI 1.2–12.2). Among ACPA-negative RA patients, moderate or high scores associated strongly with DMARD-free remission (moderate vs. low HR 9.4, 95% CI 1.2–72. 9; high vs. low HR 9.7, 95% CI 1.3–71.1). This association was independent of age and other clinical factors (high vs. low HR 8.2, 95% CI 1.1–61.8). For ACPA-negative RA patients, the biomarkers C-reactive protein, serum amyloid A and matrix metalloproteinase-3 were individually associated with sustained DMARD-free remission. Among ACPA-positive RA patients, scores were not associated with DMARD-free remission. Conclusions: ACPA-negative RA patients who achieved sustained DMARD-free remission after treatment withdrawal were characterized by moderate to high MBDA scores at diagnosis. This is the first evidence that ACPA-negative RA can be subdivided in clinically relevant subsets at disease onset using a protein profile.

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Keywords Rheumatoid arthritis, ACPA, Sustained DMARD-free remission, Biomarker
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Journal Arthritis Research & Therapy
Boeters, D.M., Burgers, L.E., Sasso, E.H., Huizinga, T.W.J, & van der Helm-va Mil, AHM. (2019). ACPA-negative RA consists of subgroups: patients with high likelihood of achieving sustained DMARD-free remission can be identified by serological markers at disease presentation. Arthritis Research & Therapy, 21. doi:10.1186/s13075-019-1902-2