Objectives: Advanced imaging modalities have shown that not only joints but also bones and tendon sheaths can be inflamed at diagnosis of RA. We aimed to better understand the time-order in which the inflamed tissues respond to DMARD treatment. Also, because ACPA status may reflect a different pathophysiology, differences in time-order of inflammation decrease were hypothesized between these disease types. Methods: A total of 216 consecutive patients presenting with RA (n = 176) or undifferentiated arthritis (n = 40), who all started with conventional synthetic DMARD treatment, were studied. 1.5T contrast-enhanced hand and foot MRIs were performed before treatment and after 4, 12 and 24 months. Cross-lagged models evaluated the influence of two time patterns: a simultaneous pattern ('change in one inflammatory feature associated with change in another feature') and a subsequent pattern ('change in one inflammatory feature preceded change in another feature'). ACPA stratification was performed. Results: The median symptom duration at presentation was 13 weeks. Forty-four percent of patients was ACPA-positive. All pairs of inflammatory features decreased simultaneously in all time intervals (0-4/4-12/12-24 months; P < 0.05). Moreover, time-orders were identified: synovitis decrease preceded tenosynovitis decrease (0-4 to >4-12 months; P = 0.02 and 4-12 to >12-24 months; P = 0.03). Largely similar results were obtained in both ACPA subgroups. Additionally, in ACPA-positive but not ACPA-negative patients, synovitis decrease preceded osteitis decrease (4-12 to >12-24 moths; P = 0.002). Conclusion: This study increased the understanding of the response to treatment on the tissue level. In addition to simultaneous decrease of inflammation, synovitis decrease preceded tenosynovitis decrease. Differences in time-order of inflammation decrease between ACPA subgroups suggest differences in underlying inflammatory pathways.
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© 2020 The Author(s) 2020. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the British Society for Rheumatology.