Brink M, Lundquist A, Alexeyenko A, Lejon K, Rantapää-Dahlqvist S
Arthritis Res. Ther. 21 (1) 288 [2019-12-16; online 2019-12-16]
Antibodies and upregulated cytokines and chemokines predate the onset of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) symptoms. We aimed to identify the pathways related to the early processes leading to RA development, as well as potential novel biomarkers, using multiple protein analyses. A case-control study was conducted within the Biobank of northern Sweden. The plasma samples from 118 pre-symptomatic individuals (207 samples; median predating time 4.1 years), 79 early RA patients, and 74 matched controls were analyzed. The levels of 122 unique proteins with an acknowledged relationship to autoimmunity were analyzed using 153 antibodies and a bead-based multiplex system (FlexMap3D; Luminex Corp.). The data were analyzed using multifactorial linear regression model, random forest, and network enrichment analysis (NEA) based on the 10 most significantly differentially expressed proteins for each two-by-two group comparison, using the MSigDB collection of hallmarks. There was a high agreement between the different statistical methods to identify the most significant proteins. The adipogenesis and interferon alpha response hallmarks differentiated pre-symptomatic individuals from controls. These two hallmarks included proteins involved in innate immunity. Between pre-symptomatic individuals and RA patients, three hallmarks were identified as follows: apical junction, epithelial mesenchymal transition, and TGF-β signaling, including proteins suggestive of cell interaction, remodulation, and fibrosis. The adipogenesis and heme metabolism hallmarks differentiated RA patients from controls. We confirm the importance of interferon alpha signaling and lipids in the early phases of RA development. Network enrichment analysis provides a tool for a deeper understanding of molecules involved at different phases of the disease progression.