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Abstract

Objective

To evaluate the presence of pulmonary abnormalities in rheumatoid arthritis (RA)–related autoantibody–positive subjects without inflammatory arthritis.

Methods

Forty-two subjects who did not have inflammatory arthritis but were positive for anti–cyclic citrullinated peptide antibodies and/or ≥2 rheumatoid factor isotypes (a profile that is 96% specific for RA), 15 autoantibody-negative controls, and 12 patients with established seropositive early RA (<1-year duration) underwent spirometry and high-resolution computed tomography (HRCT) lung imaging.

Results

The median age of autoantibody-positive subjects was 54 years, 52% were female, and 38% were ever-smokers; these characteristics were not significantly different from those of autoantibody-negative control subjects. No autoantibody-positive subject had inflammatory arthritis based on joint examination. HRCT revealed that 76% of autoantibody-positive subjects had airways abnormalities including bronchial wall thickening, bronchiectasis, centrilobular opacities, and air trapping, compared with 33% of autoantibody-negative controls (P = 0.005). The prevalence and type of lung abnormalities among autoantibody-positive subjects were similar to those among patients with early RA. In 2 autoantibody-positive subjects with airways disease, inflammatory arthritis classifiable as articular RA developed ∼13 months after the lung evaluation.

Conclusion

Airways abnormalities that are consistent with inflammation are common in autoantibody-positive subjects without inflammatory arthritis and are similar to airways abnormalities seen in patients with early RA. These findings suggest that the lung may be an early site of autoimmune-related injury and potentially a site of generation of RA-related autoimmunity. Further studies are needed to define the mechanistic role of lung inflammation in the development of RA.