Strong combined gene–environment effects in anti–cyclic citrullinated peptide–positive rheumatoid arthritis: A nationwide case–control study in Denmark




To study the role of shared epitope (SE) susceptibility genes, alone and in combination with tobacco smoking and other environmental risk factors, for risk of subtypes of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) defined by the presence or absence of serum antibodies against cyclic citrullinated peptides (CCPs).


To address these issues, a nationwide case–control study was conducted in Denmark during 2002–2004, comprising incident cases of RA or patients with recently diagnosed RA (309 seropositive and 136 seronegative for IgG antibodies against CCP) and 533 sex- and age-matched population controls. Associations were evaluated by logistic regression analyses, in which odds ratios (ORs) served as measures of relative risk.


Compared with individuals without SE susceptibility genes, SE homozygotes had an elevated risk of anti-CCP–positive RA (OR 17.8, 95% confidence interval [95% CI] 10.8–29.4) but not anti-CCP–negative RA (OR 1.07, 95% CI 0.53–2.18). Strong combined gene–environment effects were observed, with markedly increased risks of anti-CCP–positive RA in SE homozygotes who were heavy smokers (OR 52.6, 95% CI 18.0–154), heavy coffee drinkers (OR 53.3, 95% CI 15.5–183), or oral contraceptive users (OR 44.6, 95% CI 15.2–131) compared with SE noncarriers who were not exposed to these environmental risk factors.


Persons who are homozygous for SE susceptibility genes, notably those who are also exposed to environmental risk factors, have a markedly and selectively increased risk of anti-CCP–positive RA. A distinction between anti-CCP–positive RA and anti-CCP–negative RA seems warranted, because these RA subtypes most likely represent etiologically distinct disease entities.