Objective: Chronic inflammation and immune dysregulation are crucial mechanisms for atherosclerosis in RA. Recent evidence suggests a link via humoral responses against high-density lipoproteins (HDL). This study aimed to characterize the specificity, clinical relevance and emergence of humoral responses against HDL along disease course, especially during the earliest phases of arthritis.

Methods: IgG and IgM serum levels of antibodies against HDL (anti-HDL) and apolipoprotein A1 (anti-ApoA1) were measured in 82 early RA patients, 14 arthralgia individuals and 96 controls. Established RA patients (n = 42) were included for validation. Atherosclerosis and vascular stiffness were measured by Doppler ultrasound. Lipoprotein content, particle numbers and size were measured by H-NMR. Cytokines were measured by immunoassays. A cardiometabolic-related protein panel was evaluated using high-throughput targeted proteomics.

Results: Anti-HDL and anti-ApoA1 responses were increased in early RA compared with controls (both P < 0.001) and were comparable to established disease. Only anti-ApoA1 antibodies were increased in arthralgia. IgG anti-HDL and anti-ApoA1 were associated with unfavourable lipoprotein traits in RA and arthralgia, respectively. A similar picture was observed for inflammatory mediators. No associations with clinical features or risk factors were found. IgG anti-HDL were independently associated with atherosclerosis occurrence in early RA, and outperformed patient stratification over conventional algorithms (mSCORE) and their anti-ApoA1 counterparts. Anti-HDL antibodies correlated with proteins involved in immune activation, remodelling and lipid metabolism pathways in early RA.

Conclusion: Humoral responses against HDL particles are an early event along the arthritis course, although quantitative and qualitative differences can be noticed among stages. These differences informed distinct capacities as biomarkers and underlying pathogenic circuits.