An effective early diagnosis is important for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) management. This study reveals a novel RA detection method using bacteriorhodopsin as a photoelectric transducer, a light-driven proton pump in purple membranes (PMs). It was devised by covalently conjugating a PM monolayer-coated electrode with a citrullinated-inter-alpha-trypsin inhibitor heavy chain 3 (ITIH3)542–556 peptide that recognizes the serum RA-associated autoantibodies. The direct serum coating decreased the photocurrents in the biosensor, with the reduction in the photocurrent caused by coating with an RA-patient serum that is significantly larger than that with a healthy-control serum (38.1% vs. 20.2%). The difference in the reduction in the photocurrent between those two serum groups widened after the serum-coated biosensor was further labeled with gold nanoparticle (AuNP)-conjugated anti-IgA (anti-IgA-AuNP) (53.6% vs. 30.6%). Both atomic force microscopic (AFM) and Raman analyses confirmed the sequential peptide, serum, and anti-IgA-AuNP coatings on the PM-coated substrates. The reductions in the photocurrent measured in both the serum and anti-IgA-AuNPs coating steps correlated well with the results using commercial enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay kits (Spearman rho = 0.805 and 0.787, respectively), with both a sensitivity and specificity close to 100% in both steps. It was shown that an RA diagnosis can be performed in either a single- or two-step mode using the developed biosensor.
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