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We profiled gene expression signatures to distinguish rheumatoid arthritis (RA) from non-inflammatory arthralgia (NIA), self-limiting arthritis (SLA), and undifferentiated arthritis (UA) as compared to healthy controls as novel potential biomarkers for therapeutic responsiveness. Global gene expression profiles of PBMCs from 43 drug-naïve patients presenting with joint symptoms were evaluated and differentially expressed genes identified by comparative analysis with 24 healthy volunteers. Patients were assessed at presentation with follow up at 6 and 12 months. Gene ontology and network pathway analysis were performed using DAVID Bioinformatics Resources v6.7. Gene expression profiles were also determined after disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARD) treatment in the inflammatory arthritis groups (i.e. RA and UA) and confirmed by qRT-PCR. Receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curves analysis and Area Under the Curve (AUC) estimation were performed to assess the diagnostic value of candidate gene expression signatures. A type I interferon (IFN) gene signature distinguished DMARD-naïve patients who will subsequently develop persistent inflammatory arthritis (i.e. RA and UA) from those with NIA. In patients with RA, the IFN signature is characterised by up-regulation of SIGLEC1 (p = 0.00597) and MS4A4A (p = 0.00000904). We also identified, EPHB2 (p = 0.000542) and PDZK1IP1 (p = 0.0206) with RA-specific gene expression profiles and elevated expression of the ST6GALNAC1 (p = 0.0023) gene in UA. ROC and AUC risk score analysis suggested that MSA4A (AUC: 0.894, 0.644, 0.720), PDZK1IP1 (AUC: 0.785, 0.806, 0.977), and EPHB2 (AUC: 0.794, 0.723, 0.620) at 0, 6, and 12 months follow-up can accurately discriminate patients with RA from healthy controls and may have practical value for RA diagnosis. In patients with early inflammatory arthritis, ST6GALNAC1 is a potential biomarker for UA as compared with healthy controls whereas EPHB2, MS4A4A, and particularly PDZK1IP1 may discriminate RA patients. SIGLEC1 may also be a useful marker of disease activity in UA.

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