Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 35680389
Link to DOI – annrheumdis-2022-22237010.1136/annrheumdis-2022-222370
Ann Rheum Dis 2022 Jun; ():
An interferon (IFN) gene signature (IGS) is present in approximately 50% of early, treatment naive rheumatoid arthritis (eRA) patients where it has been shown to negatively impact initial response to treatment. We wished to validate this effect and explore potential mechanisms of action.In a multicentre inception cohort of eRA patients (n=191), we examined the whole blood IGS (MxA, IFI44L, OAS1, IFI6, ISG15) with reference to circulating IFN proteins, clinical outcomes and epigenetic influences on circulating CD19+ B and CD4+ T lymphocytes.We reproduced our previous findings demonstrating a raised baseline IGS. We additionally showed, for the first time, that the IGS in eRA reflects circulating IFN-α protein. Paired longitudinal analysis demonstrated a significant reduction between baseline and 6-month IGS and IFN-α levels (p<0.0001 for both). Despite this fall, a raised baseline IGS predicted worse 6-month clinical outcomes such as increased disease activity score (DAS-28, p=0.025) and lower likelihood of a good EULAR clinical response (p=0.034), which was independent of other conventional predictors of disease activity and clinical response. Molecular analysis of CD4+ T cells and CD19+ B cells demonstrated differentially methylated CPG sites and dysregulated expression of disease relevant genes, including PARP9, STAT1, and EPSTI1, associated with baseline IGS/IFNα levels. Differentially methylated CPG sites implicated altered transcription factor binding in B cells (GATA3, ETSI, NFATC2, EZH2) and T cells (p300, HIF1α).Our data suggest that, in eRA, IFN-α can cause a sustained, epigenetically mediated, pathogenic increase in lymphocyte activation and proliferation, and that the IGS is, therefore, a robust prognostic biomarker. Its persistent harmful effects provide a rationale for the initial therapeutic targeting of IFN-α in selected patients with eRA.