Anti-filaggrin autoantibodies (AFA) are highly specific markers for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and can be detected by immunoblotting using human epidermal protein extracts. Furthermore, it was demonstrated that citrullination of the filaggrin epitopes is crucial for epitope recognition and that citrullinated peptides are also recognized by these specific autoantibodies. Based on these data, a line immunoassay (LIA) was developed containing as individual markers in vitro citrullinated recombinant filaggrin and two citrullinated synthetic peptides.
Firstly, a comparison was made between this prototype LIA and the AFA blot using natural filaggrin. A blind serum panel consisting of 25 early RA, 25 longstanding RA, and 25 disease controls was selected. Results showed a similar performance of both tests at a specificity level of 95%, while the LIA proved significantly better (P = 0.035) than the AFA blot at 99% specificity. At the latter specificity level, 2 out of 17 RF negative samples were retrieved on LIA but not on Western blot.
The LIA was further evaluated on sera obtained from 335 RA patients and 254 patients with non-RA rheumatological disorders in a retrospective study. The overall sensitivity of the LIA including three markers (LIA3) was 65.1% versus 61.8% if only the reactivity towards the citrullinated peptides was considered (LIA2). The specificity of LIA3 was 97.6% versus 98.4% for LIA2, which correlates with an estimated positive predictive value (PPV) of 87.3% for LIA3 and 90.7% for LIA2. Thirty-seven percent (30/81) of the RF-negative RA samples proved LIA2-positive, while 52 out of 55 RF positive control samples were negative for anti-filaggrin. Higher specificity and sensitivity was obtained for LIA2 in comparison with anti-RA33 immunoblot, whereas good agreement could be observed with anti-keratin antibody (AKA) testing.
In conclusion, anti-filaggrin autoantibodies can be readily detected by a LIA test based on citrullinated peptides, resulting in a high specificity and hence high PPV for RA. The assay can serve as a user-friendly alternative for AKA immunofluorescent and immunoblot techniques. Together with the RF complementarity, this test provides a valuable tool in the differential diagnosis of RA.