OBJECTIVES B cells play an important role in the perpetuation of RA, particularly as autoantibody-producing cells. The ICs that further develop deposit in the joints and aggravate the inflammatory process. However, B-cell contribution in the very early stage of the disease remains unknown. The main goal of this work was to determine the concentration of cytokines potentially relevant for B-cell activation in serum from very early polyarthritis patients, with <6 weeks of disease duration, who latter on evolved into very early RA (VERA). METHODS A proliferation-inducing ligand (APRIL), B-cell activating factor (BAFF) and IL-21 levels were measured by ELISA in the serum of VERA, other very early arthritis (VEA), established RA patients and controls. SF samples of established RA were also analysed. RESULTS VERA patients have higher levels of APRIL and BAFF as compared with VEA, established RA and controls. Furthermore, APRIL and BAFF levels are also significantly elevated in RA-SF when compared with serum. CONCLUSIONS The increased levels of APRIL and BAFF in VERA patients suggests that B-cell activation and the development of autoreactive B-cell responses might be crucial in early phases of RA. Therefore, APRIL and BAFF could be promising targets for therapy in the early phase of RA.