The correlation between the incidence and level of immune complexes in serum and synovial fluid and the various clinical and biological manifestations of rheumatoid arthritis has been studied. Immune complexes were quantitated using a sensitive radioimmunoassay, the 125I-Clq binding test, in unheated native sera and synovial fluids from 50 patients with seropositive (RA +) and 45 with seronegative (RA -) rheumatoid arthritis, 17 with other inflammatory arthritis, and 37 with degenerative and post-traumatic joint disease. The following observations were made: (a) when compared to the results from patients with degenerative and post-traumatic joint diseases, the 125I-Clq binding activity (Clq-BA) in synovial fluid was found to be increased (by more than 2 SD) in most of the patients with RA + (80%) and RA - (71%) and in 29% of patients with other inflammatory arthritis; the serum Clq-BA was also frequently increased in both RA + (76%) and RA - (49%) patients, but only exceptionally in patients with other inflammatory arthritis (6%); (b) a significant negative correlation existed between the Clq-BA and the immunochemical C4 level in synovial fluids from patients with RA + and RA -; (c) neither the serum nor the synovial fluid Clq-BA in rheumatoid arthritis significantly correlated with the erythrocyte sedimentation rate, the clinical stage of the disease, or the IgM rheumatoid factor titer; and (d) the serum Clq-BA in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and extra-articular disease manifestations (40 +/- 34% in those with RA +,32 +/- 29% in those with RA -) was significantly increased as compared to the serum Clq-BA in patients with joint disease alone (24 +/- 30% in those with RA +, 10 +/- 13% in those with RA -). Experimental studies were carried out in order to characterize the Clq binding material in rheumatoid arthritis. This material had properties similar to immune complexes: it sedimented in a high molecular weight range on sucrose density gradients (10-30S) and lost the ability to bind Clq after reduction and alkylation, or after acid dissociation at pH 3.8, or after passage through an anti-IgG immunoabsorbant. DNase did not affect the Clq BA. These results support the hypothesis that circulating as well as intra-articular immune complexes may play an important role in some pathogenetic aspects of rheumatoid arthritis. The 125I-Clq binding test may also be of some practical clinical value in detecting patients who have a higher risk of developing vasculitis.
R H Zubler, U Nydegger, L H Perrin, k Fehr, J McCormick, P H Lambert, P A Miescher