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The study aimed to evaluate biomarkers facilitating early diagnosis of axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA) and correlations between them and disease activity parameters and imaging indexes. Patients with low back pain (LBP) (≥3 months, ≤2 years, onset ≤45 years) participating in the Italian arm of the SpondyloArthritis-Caught-Early SPACE study underwent a physical examination, questionnaires, laboratory tests, X-rays and MRI of the spine and sacroiliac joints (SIJ). An expert rheumatologist formulated axSpA diagnosis in accordance with Assessment of SpondyloArthritis International Society (ASAS) criteria. Disease activity and physical functioning were assessed using imaging, clinical and serological indices. Spine and SIJ MRI and X-rays were scored independently by 2 readers using the SPARCC, mSASSS and NY-criteria. Patients were classified as: subjects with signs of radiographic sacroiliitis (r-axSpA), subjects with signs of sacroiliitis on SIJ-MRI but not on X-rays (nr-axSpA MRI SIJ+) or subjects with no signs of sacroiliitis on MRI/X-rays but with >2 SpA features and signs of bone oedema on MRI spine (nr-axSpA MRI SIJ-/undifferentiated SpA). Significant differences were found in the prevalence of radiographic sacroiliitis, active sacroiliitis on MRI and SPARCC SIJ scores. Biomarker levels were not significantly increased in any of the patient groups. The correlations between IL-17 and IL-23 and other indices were not significant; correlations were found between IL-22 and BASFI, BASG1, HAQ, VAS pain, between mSASSS and MMP3, and between the latter and hsCRP. Although not significantly higher in any of the three groups, IL-22, MMP3 and hsCRP values were correlated with some disease activity indexes and with mSASSS. Large observational studies are required to confirm these preliminary findings.
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