OBJECTIVE: Methotrexate (MTX) remains the first-choice disease-modifying therapy in rheumatoid arthritis (RA). However, clinical response is variable, and no reliable predictive biomarkers of efficacy currently exist. In this study, plasma metabolomic profiling is evaluated as a tool to identify pretreatment biomarkers of MTX response in RA.
METHODS: Plasma collected from RA patients initiating MTX therapy (n = 20) were analyzed by metabolomic profiling totaling 648 identified metabolites. Pretreatment metabolomic profiles were compared based on clinical response after 16-weeks of MTX therapy. Clinical response to MTX was defined by a clinically meaningful reduction in disease activity score in 28 joints (DAS28-ESR) of greater than 1.2.
RESULTS: Pretreatment plasma levels of 19 metabolites were found to differ (p < 0.05) between RA patients based on response to MTX at 16-weeks. Spearman's correlation of pretreatment plasma metabolite levels with change in DAS28-ESR over the treatment period further supported three of the identified metabolites as associated with MTX response (p < 0.05). The identified metabolite levels were all found to be lower in RA patients responsive to MTX but were not found to be intercorrelated. Receiver operating characteristic analysis of each of the identified metabolites, alone or in combination, demonstrated an excellent discrimination between responders and non-responders based on pretreatment plasma levels of nornicotine (AUC = 0.84), N-methylisoleucine (AUC = 0.82), 2,3-dihydroxybutanoic acid (AUC = 0.82), and a combination biomarker panel score (AUC = 0.98).
CONCLUSION: Pretreatment plasma metabolomic profiling identified multiple metabolites associated with early response to MTX therapy in RA and represents a promising approach for the identification of clinical biomarkers of MTX response in RA.