Ultrasound-guided lymph node biopsy sampling to study the immunopathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis: a well-tolerated valuable research tool

Objective: To identify molecular changes in synovium before arthritis development in individuals at risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Materials and methods: We included 67 IgM rheumatoid factor and/or anti-citrullinated protein antibody positive individuals with arthralgia but without arthritis. Synovial biopsies were collected after which individuals were prospectively followed for at least 2 years during which 17 developed arthritis. An exploratory genome-wide transcriptional profiling study was performed in 13 preselected individuals to identify transcripts associated with arthritis development (n = 6). Findings were validated using quantitative real-time PCR and immunohistochemistry in the total cohort.

Results: Microarray-based survival analyses identified 5588 transcripts whose expression levels in synovium were significantly associated with arthritis development. Pathway analysis revealed that synovial tissue of at risk individuals who later developed arthritis display higher expression of genes involved in adaptive immune response-related pathways compared to at risk individuals who did not develop arthritis. Lower expression was observed for genes involved in extracellular matrix receptor interaction, Wnt-mediated signal transduction and lipid metabolism. Two-way hierarchical clustering analyses of a 27-gene signature separated the total at risk cohort into two groups, where pre-RA individuals preferred to cluster together. Immunohistochemistry studies revealed more podoplanin positive cells and lower lipid droplet staining in synovial tissue from pre-RA individuals.

Conclusion: Synovial alterations in adaptive immune response and lipid metabolism are associated with future development of arthritis. Since this data show synovial changes without overt cellular infiltration, these may be attributed to preclinical changes in resident synovial tissue cells such as fibroblasts, macrophages and tissue resident T cells.


Ren├ęe H. Fiechter,┬áJanne W. Bolt,┬áMarleen G. H. van de Sande,┬áCaroline J. Aalbers,┬áRobert B. M. Landew├ę,┬áMario Maas,┬áSander W. Tas┬á&┬áLisa G. M. van Baarsen