Swedish scientists claim blood levels of specific cytokines can help predict the development of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), potentially years before arthritic symptoms develop. The researchers, from University Hospital in Umeå, claim their findings could lead to the development of new blood tests to help guide the start of treatment early enough to help halt disease progression.
Their results are published in Arthritis & Rheumatism in a paper titled “Up-regulation of Cytokines and Chemokines Predates the Onset of Rheumatoid Arthritis.”
Led by Solbritt Rantap-Dahlqvist, M.D., the team carried out a nested case-control study within the Medical Biobank of Northern Sweden. They used a multiplex system to evaluate blood levels of 30 cytokines, related factors, and chemokines in samples taken from 86 individuals before the appearance of RA symptoms and in blood samples taken from 69 of these patients after their RA started. Blood from 256 matched controls was also tested.
The results showed that the blood from individuals who subsequently developed RA could be distinguished by levels of Th1 cell-, Th2 cell-, and Treg cell-related cytokines. Levels of specific chemokines, stromal cell-derived cytokines, and angiogenic-related markers were indicative of patients who had already developed RA in comparison with those who had yet to present with symptoms.
“We observed a clear relationship between cytokines related not only to Th1, Th2, and Treg cells but also to Th17 and the presence of anti-CCP antibodies, thereby supporting the concept that the immune system was already stimulated and disease was developing towards RA,” states Dr. Rantrap-Dahlqvist. “Our findings present an opportunity for better predicting the risk of developing RA and possibly preventing disease progression.”