Objective. To establish that frequencies and levels of IgG antibodies to type II collagen are higher in early rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and to correlate these results with disease activity.

Methods. Forty-four patients were characterized as having early RA. Patient sera obtained at initial presentation and at 12 months were tested by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay for IgG antibodies to native and denatured type II collagen.

Results. IgG antibodies to native and denatured type II collagen were detected at initial presentation in 27% and 82% of patients, respectively, and after 12 months in 14% and 50%, respectively. The presence of antibodies to native collagen was associated with activity of RA and severity of symptoms, and loss of antibodies at 12 months was associated with initially erosive RA and the DRB1 disease susceptibility motif.

Conclusion. Levels of serum IgG antibodies to collagen in RA decrease over time and, therefore, are not attributable simply to cartilage destruction. The presence of early positivity for these antibodies, together with the RA susceptibility motif, appears to be predictive of rapidly progressive RA.