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1.  Gene therapy for established murine collagen-induced arthritis by local and systemic adenovirus-mediated delivery of interleukin-4 
Arthritis Research  2000;2(4):293-302.
To determine whether IL-4 is therapeutic in treating established experimental arthritis, a recombinant adenovirus carrying the gene that encodes murine IL-4 (Ad-mIL-4) was used for periarticular injection into the ankle joints into mice with established collagen-induced arthritis (CIA). Periarticular injection of Ad-mIL-4 resulted in a reduction in the severity of arthritis and joint swelling compared with saline- and adenoviral control groups. Local expression of IL-4 also reduced macroscopic signs of joint inflammation and bone erosion. Moreover, injection of Ad-mIL-4 into the hind ankle joints resulted in a decrease in disease severity in the untreated front paws. Systemic delivery of murine IL-4 by intravenous injection of Ad-mIL-4 resulted in a significant reduction in the severity of early-stage arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic systemic autoimmune disease that is characterized by joint inflammation, and progressive cartilage and bone erosion. Recent research has identified certain biologic agents that appear more able than conventional therapies to halt effectively the progression of disease, as well as ameliorate disease symptoms. One potential problem with the use of biologic agents for arthritis therapy is the need for daily or weekly repeat dosing. The transfer of genes directly to the synovial lining can theoretically circumvent the need for repeat dosing and reduce potential systemic side effects [1,2]. However, although many genes have been effective in treating murine CIA if administrated at a time before disease onset, local intra-articular or periarticular gene transfer has not been highly effective in halting the progression of established disease. IL-4, similar to tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α and IL-1 inhibitors, has been shown be therapeutic for the treatment of murine CIA when administered intravenously as a recombinant protein, either alone or in combination with IL-10. IL-4 can downregulate the production of proinflammatory and T-helper (Th)1-type cytokines by inducing mRNA degradation and upregulating the expression of inhibitors of proinflammatory cytokines such as IL-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1Ra) [3,4]. IL-4 is able to inhibit IL-2 and IFN-γ production by Th1 cells, resulting in suppression of macrophage activation and the production of the proinflammatory cytokines IL-1, IL-6, IL-8, and TNF-α by monocytes and macrophages [4,5,6,7,8,9].
In order to examine the therapeutic effects of local and systemic IL-4 expression in established CIA, an adenoviral vector carrying the gene for murine IL-4 (Ad-mIL-4) was generated. The ability of Ad-mIL-4 to treat established CIA was evaluated by local periarticular and systemic intravenous injection of Ad-mIL-4 into mice at various times after disease onset.
Materials and methods:
Male DBA/1 lacJ (H-2q) mice, aged 7-8 weeks, were purchased from The Jackson Laboratory (Bar Harbor, ME, USA). The mice were immunized intradermally at the base of tail with 100 μ g bovine type II collagen. On day 21 after priming, mice received a boost injection (intradermally) with 100 μ g type II collagen in incomplete adjuvant. For the synchronous onset of arthritis, 40 μ g lipopolysaccharide (Sigma, St Louis, MO, USA) was injected intraperitoneally on day 28. Ad-mIL-4 was injected periarticularly into the hind ankle joints of mice on day 32 or intravenously by tail vein injection on day 29. Disease severity was monitored every other day using an established macroscopic scoring system ranging from 0 to 4: 0, normal; 1, detectable arthritis with erythma; 2, significant swelling and redness; 3, severe swelling and redness from joint to digit; and 4, maximal swelling with ankylosis. The average of macroscopic score was expressed as a cumulative value for all paws, with a maximum possible score of 16 per mouse. Cytokine production by joint tissue or serum were assessed using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA; R&D Systems, Minneapolis, MN, USA).
To examine the therapeutic effects of IL-4 gene transfer in a murine model of arthritis, 5×108 particles of Ad-mIL-4 and enhanced green fluorescent protein (Ad-eGFP) were administered by periarticular injection into the ankle joints of mice with established disease 4 days after lipopolysaccharide injection. All mice had established disease at time of injection. As shown in Figure 1, the severity of arthritis (Fig. 1a), paw thickness (Fig. 1b), and the number of arthritic paws (Fig. 1c) were all significantly reduced in the Ad-mIL-4 group, compared with the saline- and Ad-eGFP-treated groups. Analysis of the bones in the ankle joints of control arthritic mice showed evidence of erosion with an associated monocytic infiltrate around the joint space compared with the Ad-mIL-4-treated and nonarthritic control joints. In addition, injection of the ankle joints in the hind legs resulted in a therapeutic effect in the front paws. A similar contralateral effect has been observed with adenoviral-mediated delivery of viral (v)-IL-10. Interestingly, a high level of murine IL-10 also was detected from the joint lysates of Ad-mIL-4-treated naïve and arthritic mice, with the production of endogenous IL-10 correlating with the dose of Ad-mIL-4. The administration of recombinant IL-4 protein systemically has been shown to be therapeutic in murine CIA models if given before disease onset. To examine the effect of systemic IL-4 delivered by gene transfer, 1×109 particles of Ad-mIL-4 were injected via the tail vein of collagen-immunized mice the day after lipopolysaccharide injection. Whereas the immunized control mice, injected with Ad-eGFP, showed disease onset on day 3 after lipopolysaccharide injection, Ad-mIL-4-treated mice showed a delay in disease onset and as a reduction in the total number of arthritic paws. Also, systemic injection of Ad-mIL-4 suppressed the severity of arthritis in CIA mice according to arthritis index.
Gene therapy represents a novel approach for delivery of therapeutic agents to joints in order to treat the pathologies associated with RA and osteoarthritis, as well as other disorders of the joints. In the present study we examined the ability of local periarticular and systemic gene transfer of IL-4 to treat established and early-stage murine CIA, respectively. We have demonstrated that both local and systemic administration of Ad-mIL-4 resulted in a reduction in the severity of arthritis, as well as in the number of arthritic paws. In addition, the local gene transfer of IL-4 reduced histologic signs of inflammation and of bone erosion. Interestingly, local delivery of Ad-mIL-4 was able to confer a therapeutic effect to the untreated, front paws through a currently unknown mechanism. In addition, both local and systemic expression of IL-4 resulted in an increase in the level of endogenous IL-10, as well as of IL-1Ra (data not shown). Previous experiments have shown that gene transfer of IL-10 and IL-1 and TNF inhibitors at the time of disease initiation (day 28) is therapeutic. However, delivery of these agents after disease onset appeared to have only limited therapeutic effect. In contrast, the present results demonstrate that IL-4, resulting from local periarticular and systemic injection of Ad-mIL-4, was able partially to reverse progression of established and early-stage disease, respectively. These results, as well as those of others, support the potential application of IL-4 gene therapy for the clinical treatment of RA.
PMCID: PMC17812  PMID: 11056670
adenoviral vectors; collagen-induced arthritis; gene therapy; IL-4; IL-10; rheumatoid arthritis
2.  A New Arthritis Therapy with Oxidative Burst Inducers 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(9):e348.
Despite recent successes with biological agents as therapy for autoimmune inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), many patients fail to respond adequately to these treatments, making a continued search for new therapies extremely important. Recently, the prevailing hypothesis that reactive oxygen species (ROS) promote inflammation was challenged when polymorphisms in Ncf1, that decrease oxidative burst, were shown to increase disease severity in mouse and rat arthritis models. Based on these findings we developed a new therapy for arthritis using oxidative burst-inducing substances.
Methods and Findings
Treatment of rats with phytol (3,7,11,15-tetramethyl-2-hexadecene-1-ol) increased oxidative burst in vivo and thereby corrected the effect of the genetic polymorphism in arthritis-prone Ncf1DA rats. Importantly, phytol treatment also decreased the autoimmune response and ameliorated both the acute and chronic phases of arthritis. When compared to standard therapies for RA, anti-tumour necrosis factor-α and methotrexate, phytol showed equally good or better therapeutic properties. Finally, phytol mediated its effect within hours of administration and involved modulation of T cell activation, as injection prevented adoptive transfer of disease with arthritogenic T cells.
Treatment of arthritis with ROS-promoting substances such as phytol targets a newly discovered pathway leading to autoimmune inflammatory disease and introduces a novel class of therapeutics for treatment of RA and possibly other chronic inflammatory diseases.
Treatment of arthritis in rats with phytol, a reactive oxygen species promoting substance, suggests a novel pathway of autoimmune inflammatory disease and possibly a novel therapeutic strategy.
Editors' Summary
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic illness that affects between 0.3% and 1% of people worldwide, causing pain and swelling in joints, tendons, and other tissues, and frequently leading to permanent deformity and disability. RA involves an abnormal attack by cells of the immune system against the body's own connective tissues (so-called autoimmunity). Current drugs for RA work by counteracting the molecules that cause the pain and swelling (inflammation). By reducing the severity of autoimmune inflammation, these drugs may also reduce the disease's long-term damage to joints.
Inflammation is not always abnormal, but in fact plays an important part in the body's defense against infection. As part of their activity against disease-causing bacteria, the white blood cells known as granulocytes generate reactive oxygen species (ROS), sometimes known as “free radicals.” After engulfing invading bacteria, neutrophils release an “oxidative burst” of ROS—essentially the subcellular equivalent of pouring hydrogen peroxide on a wound to disinfect it. A complex of molecules known collectively as the NADPH oxidase complex has the specific function of generating ROS to fuel the oxidative burst. Interestingly, recent experiments in arthritis-prone rats found that animals with an altered form of one of the subunits of this complex, Ncf1, that decreased the production of ROS also had greater susceptibility to arthritis. This finding was surprising because free radicals have generally been associated with inflammation and long-term damage to cells, so that a reduction in ROS might have been expected to decrease susceptibility to an inflammatory disease like RA.
Why Was This Study Done?
Because many patients with autoimmune inflammatory illnesses like RA do not respond to currently available therapies, new approaches to treatment merit investigation. Based on the observed association between reduced ROS and increased susceptibility to arthritis, the researchers wanted to find out whether treatment with a compound that increases ROS production by the NADPH oxidase complex would cause an improvement in arthritis.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers tested a compound called phytol in arthritis-prone rats to see how it affected inflammation. It is known that arthritis can be induced in these rats by injecting them with an oil called pristane. The researchers found that phytol caused a strong oxidative burst in human granulocyte cells grown in the laboratory, but did not cause arthritis in rats; whereas pristane, which does cause arthritis, caused a lower oxidative burst in the granulocytes.
They then studied whether phytol prevented arthritis in rats. They found that rats injected with phytol were protected from arthritis following a later injection of pristane. Given this result, they wanted to know if phytol increased ROS in the rats as it did in laboratory cell cultures. Studying granulocytes taken from rats that had been treated with phytol, they found that the oxidative burst of these cells was indeed increased, and remained increased for several weeks after treatment. They went on to test phytol as a treatment for active arthritis, and found that it dramatically reduced swollen joints and destruction of cartilage when given to rats with acute pristane-induced arthritis.
The beneficial effects of phytol were seen not only in rats bred with a form of Ncf1 that produces abnormally low amounts of ROS, but also in rats whose granulocytes produce normal oxidative bursts. When compared (in rats) to drugs licensed for RA (etanercept and methotrexate), phytol appeared to be at least as effective. The activity of phytol against arthritis was shown to involve T lymphocytes, as injection of phytol inhibited transfer of pristane-induced arthritis with these cells.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These experiments raise the intriguing possibility of an entirely new modality for treating autoimmune diseases; namely, through drugs designed to increase the production of ROS. This study raises a number of practical and scientific issues. For example, it is not known whether reduced capacity to produce ROS is a significant factor in human RA. Also, the connection between ROS production (by granulocytes) and autoimmune arthritis (which involves activity by T lymphocytes) remains to be clarified. Finally, the destructive effects typically associated with free radicals (such as damage to DNA and blockage of blood vessels) could complicate the use of this approach in humans, and like any new drugs, those that increase ROS production might have other, unanticipated side effects. Whatever the outcome of drug development efforts, however, this study is an excellent reminder that there are no “good” or “evil” biochemicals—in the intricacies of cellular metabolism, it's all a matter of balance.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
The Arthritis Foundation: Rheumatoid Arthritis pages
Medical Inflammation Research pages (R. Holmdahl research group)
Wikipedia chapter on Rheumatoid Arthritis (note: Wikipedia is a free Internet encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
Wikipedia chapter on Reactive Oxygen Species (note: Wikipedia is a free Internet encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
PMCID: PMC1564167  PMID: 16968121
3.  Protection against cartilage and bone destruction by systemic interleukin-4 treatment in established murine type II collagen-induced arthritis 
Arthritis Research  1999;1(1):81-91.
Destruction of cartilage and bone are hallmarks of human rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and controlling these erosive processes is the most challenging objective in the treatment of RA. Systemic interleukin-4 treatment of established murine collagen-induced arthritis suppressed disease activity and protected against cartilage and bone destruction. Reduced cartilage pathology was confirmed by both decreased serum cartilage oligomeric matrix protein (COMP) and histological examination. In addition, radiological analysis revealed that bone destruction was also partially prevented. Improved suppression of joint swelling was achieved when interleukin-4 treatment was combined with low-dose prednisolone treatment. Interestingly, synergistic reduction of both serum COMP and inflammatory parameters was noted when low-dose interleukin-4 was combined with prednisolone. Systemic treatment with interleukin-4 appeared to be a protective therapy for cartilage and bone in arthritis, and in combination with prednisolone at low dosages may offer an alternative therapy in RA.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is associated with an increased production of a range of cytokines including tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-α and interleukin (IL)-1, which display potent proinflammatory actions that are thought to contribute to the pathogenesis of the disease. Although TNF-α seems to be the major cytokine in the inflammatory process, IL-1 is the key mediator with regard to cartilage and bone destruction. Apart from direct blockade of IL-1/TNF, regulation can be exerted at the level of modulatory cytokines such as IL-4 and IL-10. IL-4 is a pleiotropic T-cell derived cytokine that can exert either suppressive or stimulatory effects on different cell types, and was originally identified as a B-cell growth factor and regulator of humoral immune pathways. IL-4 is produced by activated CD4+ T cells and it promotes the maturation of Th2 cells. IL-4 stimulates proliferation, differentiation and activation of several cell types, including fibroblasts, endothelial cells and epithelial cells. IL-4 is also known to be a potent anti-inflammatory cytokine that acts by inhibiting the synthesis of proinflammatory cytokines such as IL-1, TNF-α, IL-6, IL-8 and IL-12 by macrophages and monocytes. Moreover, IL-4 stimulates the synthesis of several cytokine inhibitors such as interleukin-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1Ra), soluble IL-1-receptor type II and TNF receptors IL-4 suppresses metalloproteinase production and stimulates tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase-1 production in human mononuclear phagocytes and cartilage explants, indicating a protective effect of IL-4 towards extracellular matrix degradation. Furthermore, IL-4 inhibits both osteoclast activity and survival, and thereby blocks bone resorption in vitro. Of great importance is that IL-4 could not be detected in synovial fluid or in tissues. This absence of IL-4 in the joint probably contributes to the disturbance in the Th1/Th2 balance in chronic RA.
Collagen-induced arthritis (CIA) is a widely used model of arthritis that displays several features of human RA. Recently it was demonstrated that the onset of CIA is under stringent control of IL-4 and IL-10. Furthermore, it was demonstrated that exposure to IL-4 during the immunization stage reduced onset and severity of CIA. However, after cessation of IL-4 treatment disease expression increased to control values.
Because it was reported that IL-4 suppresses several proinflammatory cytokines and matrix degrading enzymes and upregulates inhibitors of both cytokines and catabolic enzymes, we investigated the tissue protective effect of systemic IL-4 treatment using established murine CIA as a model. Potential synergy of low dosages of anti-inflammatory glucocorticosteroids and IL-4 was also evaluated.
DBA-1J/Bom mice were immunized with bovine type II collagen and boosted at day 21. Mice with established CIA were selected at day 28 after immunization and treated for days with IL-4, prednisolone, or combinations of prednisolone and IL-4. Arthritis score was monitored visually. Joint pathology was evaluated by histology, radiology and serum cartilage oligomeric matrix protein (COMP). In addition, serum levels of IL-1Ra and anticollagen antibodies were determined.
Treatment of established CIA with IL-4 (1 μg/day) resulted in suppression of disease activity as depicted in Figure 1. Of great interest is that, although 1 μg/day IL-4 had only a moderate effect on the inflammatory component of the disease activity, it strongly reduced cartilage pathology, as determined by histological examination (Fig. 1). Moreover, serum COMP levels were significantly reduced, confirming decreased cartilage involvement. In addition, both histological and radiological analysis showed that bone destruction was prevented (Fig. 1). Systemic IL-4 administration increased serum IL-1Ra levels and reduced anticollagen type II antibody levels. Treatment with low-dose IL-4 (0.1 μg/day) was ineffective in suppressing disease score, serum COMP or joint destruction. Synergistic suppression of both arthritis severity and COMP levels was noted when low-dose IL-4 was combined with prednisolone (0.05 mg/kg/day), however, which in itself was not effective.
In the present study, we demonstrate that systemic IL-4 treatment ameliorates disease progression of established CIA. Although clinical disease progression was only arrested and not reversed, clear protection against cartilage and bone destruction was noted. This is in accord with findings in both human RA and animal models of RA that show that inflammation and tissue destruction sometimes are uncoupled processes. Of great importance is that, although inflammation was still present, strong reduction in serum COMP was found after exposure to IL-4. This indicated that serum COMP levels reflected cartilage damage, although a limited contribution of the inflamed synovium cannot be excluded.
Increased serum IL-1Ra level (twofold) was found after systemic treatment with IL-4, but it is not likely that this could explain the suppression of CIA. We and others have reported that high dosages of IL-1Ra are needed for marked suppression of CIA. As reported previously, lower dosages of IL-4 did not reduce clinical disease severity of established CIA. Of importance is that combined treatment of low dosages of IL-4 and IL-10 appeared to have more potent anti-inflammatory effects, and markedly protected against cartilage destruction. Improved anti-inflammatory effect was achieved with IL-4/prednisolone treatment. In addition, synergistic effects were found for the reduction of cartilage and bone destruction. This indicates that systemic IL-4/prednisolone treatment may provide a cartilage and bone protective therapy for human RA.
Effects in mice of treatment with interleukin-4 or control on disease activity, cartilage damage and bone destruction. Mice were treated intraperitoneally for 7 days with either vehicle (control) or 1 μg/day interleukin-4 (IL-4). CIA, collagen-induced arthritis. *P < 0.05, versus control, by Mann-Whitney U test.
PMCID: PMC17779  PMID: 11056663
bone destruction; cartilage oligomeric matrix protein levels; collagen-induced arthritis; interleukin-4; prednisolone
4.  Apoptosis and p53 expression in rat adjuvant arthritis 
Arthritis Research  2000;2(3):229-235.
The kinetics of apoptosis and the apoptosis-regulating gene p53 in adjuvant arthritis (AA) were investigated to assess the value of the AA rat model for testing apoptosis-inducing therapies. Very few terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated deoxyuridine triphosphate (dUTP) nick end-labeling (TUNEL)-positive cells were detected during the early phases of AA, but on day 23 (chronic arthritis) the percentage of TUNEL-positive cells was significantly increased. Expression of p53 in synovial tissue gradually increased from days 5-23, which was markedly higher than p53 levels in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) synovium. Significant apoptosis only occurs late in rat AA and is concordant with marked p53 overexpression, making it useful model for testing proapoptotic therapies, but rat AA is not the best model for p53 gene therapy because dramatic p53 overexpression occurs in the latter stages of the disease.
RA is a chronic inflammatory disorder that is characterized by inflammation and proliferation of synovial tissue. The amount of DNA fragmentation is significantly increased in rheumatoid synovium. Only low numbers of apoptotic cells are present in rheumatoid synovial tissue, however. The proportion of cells with DNA strand breaks is so great that this disparity suggests impaired apoptosis. Therefore, the development of novel therapeutic strategies that are aimed at inducing apoptosis in rheumatoid synovial tissue is an attractive goal.
Although animal models for arthritis only approximate RA, they provide a useful test system for the evaluation of apoptosis-inducing therapies. AA in rats is among the most commonly used animal models for RA. For the interpretation of such studies, it is essential to characterize the extent to which apoptosis occurs during the natural course of the disease. Therefore, we evaluated the number of apoptotic cells and the expression of p53 in various phases of AA.
Materials and methods:
In order to generate the AA rat model, Lewis rats were immunized with Mycobacterium tuberculosis in mineral oil on day 0. Paw swelling usually started around day 10. For the temporal analysis rats were sacrificed on days 0, 5 (prearthritis), 11 (onset of arthritis), 17 (accelerating arthritis), or 23 (chronic arthritis).
For the detection of apoptotic cells, the hind paws were harvested on days 0(n=6),5 (n=6), 11 (n=6), 17 (n=6), or 23 (n=4). The right ankle joints were fixed in formalin, decalcified in ethylenediaminetetra-acetic acid, embedded in paraffin, and sectioned. The TUNEL method was applied. The percentage of TUNEL-positive cells of the total inflammatory cell infiltrate was noted.
For Western blot analysis, hind paws were harvested on days 0 (n=2), 5 (n=3), 11 (n=4), 17 (n=4), or 23 (n=4). In addition, hind paws of normal rats (n=2) were studied. The right ankle joints were snap frozen and pulverized. Synovial tissue was also obtained by arthroscopy of three patients with longstanding (>5 years) RA. After protein extraction in lysis buffer, equal amounts of protein samples from lysates were pooled and examined by Western bolt analysis using anti-p53 monoclonal antibody D07, which recognizes wild-type and mutant p53 from rodents and humans.
For immunohistochemical analysis, six rats were sacrificed on day 23 after immunization and synovial tissue of the right ankle joints was snap frozen and evaluated by immunohistochemistry using anti-p53-pan. The sections were evaluated semi-quantitatively using a 0-4 scale.
The kruskal-Wallis test for several group means was used to compare the percentage of TUNEL-positive cells at different time points.
The percentages of TUNEL-positive cells were strongly dependent on the stage of the disease. Very few TUNEL-positive cells were detected in normal rats or in the early phases of AA; the number of TUNEL-positive cells was 1% or less of the total cell infiltrate, including neutrophils, from days 0-17 (Table 1). On day 23, however, the percentage of TUNEL-positive cells was significantly increased [15.8±5.1% (mean ± standard error of the mean); P=0.01]. TUNEL-positive cells were observed in the intimal lining layer and synovial sublining of the invasive front, as well as in the articular cartilage (Fig. 1).
Subsequently, we examined expression of the tumor suppressor gene p53, because this is a key regulator of apoptosis. Expression of p53 in pooled rat AA joint extracts gradually increased from day 0 (6 arbitrary units) to day 23 (173 arbitrary units), which was markedly higher than p53 levels in RA synovium (32 arbitrary units; Table 1). Overexpression of p53 protein on day 23 was confirmed by immunohistochemistry in a separate experiment in six rats with AA. Overexpression of p53 was observed in the intimal lining layer and synovial sublining in all rats on day 23. In all cases a semiquantitative score of 4 was assigned, indicating that 51% or more of the cells were positive, whereas control sections were negative.
The results presented here reveal that the number of TUNEL-positive cells remained very low until chronic arthritis developed. This indicates that, although there was sufficient DNA damage to cause an increment in p53 expression in the early phases, DNA strand breaks that can be detected by TUNEL assays only occurred in chronic AA. The observation that TUNEL-positive cells were nearly absent in early AA clearly indicates that only very few cells were undergoing programmed cell death. This is an important observation, which makes it possible to study the effects of apoptosis-inducing therapies in situ in early and accelerating AA. An effective therapy would obviously increase the number of TUNEL-positive cells.
There is already some overexpression of p53 in the preclinical phase and during the onset of the arthritis, with an additional increment in p53 expression during accelerating and chronic arthritis. Presumably, this is wild-type p53, because the disease duration is likely too short to allow for the development of p53 mutations. Transcription of p53 is probably increased in response to the toxic environment of the inflamed joint. The increased expression of p53 in the joints of rats with chronic AA was even greater than that observed in synovial tissue of RA patients with long-standing disease.
Overexpression of p53 and increased numbers of apoptotic cells did not occur simultaneously in this model; rather p53 overexpression preceded increased apoptosis. Activation of p53 leads to induction of cell growth arrest, allowing time for DNA repair. It appears that DNA damage is only extensive enough to induce apoptosis in the latter stages of AA. Factors other than p53 may also play an important role in the actual induction of apoptosis
Taken together, significant apoptosis only occurs late in AA and it follows marked p53 overexpression, making it a useful model for testing proapoptotic therapies. AA is not the best model for p53 gene therapy, however, because dramatic p53 overexpression occurs in the latter stages of the disease.
PMCID: PMC17810  PMID: 11056668
adjuvant arthritis; apoptosis; p53; rheumatoid arthritis
5.  Arthroscopic Lavage and Debridement for Osteoarthritis of the Knee 
Executive Summary
The purpose of this review was to determine the effectiveness and adverse effects of arthroscopic lavage and debridement, with or without lavage, in the treatment of symptoms of osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee, and to conduct an economic analysis if evidence for effectiveness can be established.
Questions Asked
Does arthroscopic lavage improve motor function and pain associated with OA of the knee?
Does arthroscopic debridement improve motor function and pain associated with OA of the knee?
If evidence for effectiveness can be established, what is the duration of effect?
What are the adverse effects of these procedures?
What are the economic considerations if evidence for effectiveness can be established?
Clinical Need
Osteoarthritis, the most common rheumatologic musculoskeletal disorder, affects about 10% of the Canadian adult population. Although the natural history of OA is not known, it is a degenerative condition that affects the bone cartilage in the joint. It can be diagnosed at earlier ages, particularly within the sports injuries population, though the prevalence of non-injury-related OA increases with increasing age and varies with gender, with women being twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with this condition. Thus, with an aging population, the impact of OA on the health care system is expected to be considerable.
Treatments for OA of the knee include conservative or nonpharmacological therapy, like physiotherapy, weight management and exercise; and more generally, intra-articular injections, arthroscopic surgery and knee replacement surgery. Whereas knee replacement surgery is considered an end-of-line intervention, the less invasive surgical procedures of lavage or debridement may be recommended for earlier and more severe disease. Both arthroscopic lavage and debridement are generally indicated in patients with knee joint pain, with or without mechanical problems, that are refractory to medical therapy. The clinical utility of these procedures is unclear, hence, the assessment of their effectiveness in this review.
Lavage and Debridement
Arthroscopic lavage involves the visually guided introduction of saline solution into the knee joint and removal of fluid, with the intent of extracting any excess fluids and loose bodies that may be in the knee joint. Debridement, in comparison, may include the introduction of saline into the joint, in addition to the smoothening of bone surface without any further intervention (less invasive forms of debridement), or the addition of more invasive procedures such as abrasion, partial or full meniscectomy, synovectomy, or osteotomy (referred to as debridement in combination with meniscectomy or other procedures). The focus of this health technology assessment is on the effectiveness of lavage, and debridement (with or without meniscal tear resection).
Review Strategy
The Medical Advisory Secretariat followed its standard procedures and searched these electronic databases: Ovid MEDLINE, EMBASE, Ovid MEDLINE In-Process and Other Non-Indexed Citations, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews and The International Network of Agencies for Health Technology Assessment.
The keywords searched were: arthroscopy, debridement, lavage, wound irrigation, or curettage; arthritis, rheumatoid, osteoarthritis; osteoarthritis, knee; knee or knee joint.
Time frame: Only 2 previous health technology assessments were identified, one of which was an update of the other, and included 3 of 4 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) from the first report. Therefore, the search period for inclusion of studies in this assessment was January 1, 1995 to April 24, 2005.
Excluded were: case reports, comments, editorials, and letters. Identified were 335 references, including previously published health technology assessments, and 5 articles located through a manual search of references from published articles and health technology assessments. These were examined against the criteria, as described below, which resulted in the inclusion of 1 health technology assessment and its corresponding update, and 4 articles (2 RCTs and 2 level 4 studies) for arthroscopic lavage and 8 papers (2 RCTs and 6 level 4 studies) for arthroscopic debridement.
Inclusion Criteria
English-language articles from PubMed, EMBASE, Cochrane Systematic Reviews, and health technology assessments from January 1, 1995 onward
Studies on OA of the knee with a focus on the outcomes of motor function and pain
Studies of arthroscopic procedures only
Studies in which meniscal tear resection/meniscectomy (partial or full) has been conducted in conjunction with lavage or debridement.
Exclusion Criteria
Studies that focus on inflammatory OA, joint tuberculosis, septic joints, psoriatic joints (e.g., psoriatic knee joint synovitis), synovitis, chondropathy of the knee and gonarthrosis (which includes varotic gonarthrosis)
Studies that focus on rheumatoid arthritis
Studies that focus on meniscal tears from an acute injury (e.g., sports injury)
Studies that are based on lavage or debridement for microfracture of the knee
Studies in which other surgical procedures (e.g., high tibial osteotomy, synovectomy, have been conducted in addition to lavage/debridement)
Studies based on malalignment of the knee (e.g., varus/valgus arthritic conditions).
Studies that compare lavage to lavage plus drug therapy
Studies on procedures that are not arthroscopic (i.e., visually guided) (e.g., nonarthroscopic lavage)
Studies of OA in children.
Arthroscopic lavage or debridement, with or without meniscectomy, for the treatment of motor function symptoms and pain associated with OA of the knee.
Studies in which there was a comparison group of either diseased or healthy subjects or one in which subjects were their own control were included. Comparisons to other treatments included placebo (or sham) arthroscopy. Sham arthroscopy involved making small incisions and manipulating the knee, without the insertion of instruments.
Summary of Findings
In early OA of the knee with pain refractory to medical treatment, there is level 1b evidence that:
Arthroscopic lavage gives rise to a statistically significant, but not clinically meaningful effect in improving pain (WOMAC pain and VAS pain) up to 12 months following surgery. The effect on joint function (WOMAC function) and the primary outcome (WOMAC aggregate) was neither statistically nor clinically significant.
In moderate or severe OA of the knee with pain refractory to medical treatment, there is:
Level 1b evidence that the effect on pain and function of arthroscopic lavage (10 L saline) and debridement (with 10 L saline lavage) is not statistically significant up to 24 months following surgery.
Level 2 evidence that arthroscopic debridement (with 3 L saline lavage) is effective in the control of pain in severe OA of the medial femoral condyle for up to 5 years.
For debridement in combination with meniscectomy, there is level 4 evidence that the procedure, as appropriate, might be effective in earlier stages, unicompartmental disease, shorter symptom duration, sudden onset of mechanical symptoms, and preoperative full range of motion. However, as these findings are derived from very poor quality evidence, the identification of subsets of patients that may benefit from this procedure requires further testing.
In patients with pain due to a meniscal tear, of the medial compartment in particular, repair of the meniscus results in better pain control at 2 years following surgery than if the pain is attributable to other causes. There is insufficient evidence to comment on the effectiveness of lateral meniscus repair on pain control.
Arthroscopic debridement of the knee has thus far only been found to be effective for medial compartmental OA. All other indications should be reviewed with a view to reducing arthroscopic debridement as an effective therapy.
Arthroscopic lavage of the knee is not indicated for any stage of OA.
There is very poor quality evidence on the effectiveness of debridement with partial meniscectomy in the case of meniscal tears in OA of the knee.
PMCID: PMC3382413  PMID: 23074463
6.  Beta-Catenin Signaling Plays a Disparate Role in Different Phases of Fracture Repair: Implications for Therapy to Improve Bone Healing 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(7):e249.
Delayed fracture healing causes substantial disability and usually requires additional surgical treatments. Pharmacologic management to improve fracture repair would substantially improve patient outcome. The signaling pathways regulating bone healing are beginning to be unraveled, and they provide clues into pharmacologic management. The β-catenin signaling pathway, which activates T cell factor (TCF)-dependent transcription, has emerged as a key regulator in embryonic skeletogenesis, positively regulating osteoblasts. However, its role in bone repair is unknown. The goal of this study was to explore the role of β-catenin signaling in bone repair.
Methods and Findings
Western blot analysis showed significant up-regulation of β-catenin during the bone healing process. Using a β-Gal activity assay to observe activation during healing of tibia fractures in a transgenic mouse model expressing a TCF reporter, we found that β-catenin-mediated, TCF-dependent transcription was activated in both bone and cartilage formation during fracture repair. Using reverse transcription-PCR, we observed that several WNT ligands were expressed during fracture repair. Treatment with DKK1 (an antagonist of WNT/β-catenin pathway) inhibited β-catenin signaling and the healing process, suggesting that WNT ligands regulate β-catenin. Healing was significantly repressed in mice conditionally expressing either null or stabilized β-catenin alleles induced by an adenovirus expressing Cre recombinase. Fracture repair was also inhibited in mice expressing osteoblast-specific β-catenin null alleles. In stark contrast, there was dramatically enhanced bone healing in mice expressing an activated form of β-catenin, whose expression was restricted to osteoblasts. Treating mice with lithium activated β-catenin in the healing fracture, but healing was enhanced only when treatment was started subsequent to the fracture.
These results demonstrate that β-catenin functions differently at different stages of fracture repair. In early stages, precise regulation of β-catenin is required for pluripotent mesenchymal cells to differentiate to either osteoblasts or chondrocytes. Once these undifferentiated cells have become committed to the osteoblast lineage, β-catenin positively regulates osteoblasts. This is a different function for β-catenin than has previously been reported during development. Activation of β-catenin by lithium treatment has potential to improve fracture healing, but only when utilized in later phases of repair, after mesenchymal cells have become committed to the osteoblast lineage.
In a study in mice Benjamin Alman and colleagues show that β-catenin functions differently in different stages of fracture repair; moreover, activation of β-catenin by lithium improves fracture healing when used in later phases of repair.
Editors' Summary
Most people break at least one bone during their life. If the damaged bone is immobilized with a plaster cast or with metal plates and pins, most fractures heal naturally and quickly. Soon after a bone is damaged, cells called pluripotent mesenchymal cells collect at the injury site. Here, they multiply and change (differentiate) into osteoblasts (cells that make bone) and chondrocytes (cells that make cartilage, the dense connective tissue that covers joints). Osteoblasts and chondrocytes mend the fracture by making new bone, a process called ossification. Bone healing involves two types of ossification. In intramembranous ossification, mesenchymal cells and osteoblast progenitor cells make bone directly, forming a hard “callus” within the fracture. In endochondral ossification, mesenchymal cells differentiate into chondrocytes and make cartilage at the fracture site, which osteoblasts turn into bone. Finally, the bone made by both types of ossification is remodeled so that it closely resembles the damaged bone's original shape and strength.
Why Was This Study Done?
Unfortunately, fractures do not always heal efficiently. If healing is delayed, additional surgery may be needed to repair the break. But surgery can be risky, so drug-based ways of encouraging bone repair would be very useful. To develop such treatments, researchers need to understand what controls the differentiation and activity of osteoblasts and chondrocytes during normal healing. In this study, the researchers have investigated the role of the β-catenin signaling pathway in bone repair. This pathway regulates bone formation during embryonic development, a process that closely resembles bone healing. β-catenin is usually degraded rapidly in cells. However, if a member of a particular family of proteins known as the WNT family binds to a WNT receptor on the surface of a cell, β-catenin moves into the cell's nucleus where it interacts with a protein called T cell factor (TCF). This interaction activates the transcription (the copying of DNA into messenger RNA, which is used to make proteins) of numerous genes and alters the behavior of the cell.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers first measured β-catenin levels in mouse and human bones. In both species, much more β-catenin was made in bones undergoing repair than in intact bones. Then they studied TCF reporter mice—animals in which TCF controls the expression of a marker gene. β-catenin-mediated TCF-dependent transcription, they report, was activated during both bone and cartilage formation after a fracture in these mice. Next, the researchers made mice that could be induced to express an inactive form of β-catenin or a stabilized (permanently active) form of β-catenin in all the cells in a bone fracture. Expression of inactive β-catenin slowed the rate of healing but, unexpectedly, so did expression of stabilized β-catenin. Osteoblast-specific expression of inactive β-catenin also delayed bone healing, whereas osteoblast-specific expression of stabilized β-catenin enhanced the process. Finally, treatment of wild-type mice with lithium (which prevents the degradation of β-catenin) enhanced bone healing if given after a fracture, but interfered with it if given before.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that β-catenin signaling (which, the researchers show, is mainly activated by WNT signaling) has different effects at different stages of bone repair. Early in the process, it controls the ratio of osteoblasts and chondrocytes made from the pluripotent mesenchymal cells. Consequently, too much or too little β-catenin interferes with bone healing at this stage. Later on, β-catenin promotes the differentiation of osteoblasts and enhances their ability to make bone, and so too little β-catenin at this stage prevents healing, whereas increased β-catenin levels stimulate healing. These findings need to be confirmed in people before testing agents that affect β-catenin signaling for their effects on human bone healing. Nevertheless, the researchers' final discovery that lithium improves bone healing if given at the right time is particularly encouraging; lithium is widely used to treat one form of depression so could be readily tested in clinical trials.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
MedlinePlus encyclopedia contains pages on broken bones and on bone fracture repair (in English and Spanish)
Wikipedia has pages on bone fracture and on bone healing (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
The UK National Health Service Direct encyclopedia provides pages on broken bones
Animations of intramembranous and endochondral ossification are available from the Ministry of Advanced Education, Training and Technology, Province of British Columbia, Canada
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons has an informative discussion of fractures
The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto (where the authors of this study are affiliated) has a Web site called SickKids, which contains a page on child physiology, including diagrams of bone development
PMCID: PMC1950214  PMID: 17676991
7.  A Candidate Gene Approach Identifies the TRAF1/C5 Region as a Risk Factor for Rheumatoid Arthritis 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(9):e278.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disorder affecting ∼1% of the population. The disease results from the interplay between an individual's genetic background and unknown environmental triggers. Although human leukocyte antigens (HLAs) account for ∼30% of the heritable risk, the identities of non-HLA genes explaining the remainder of the genetic component are largely unknown. Based on functional data in mice, we hypothesized that the immune-related genes complement component 5 (C5) and/or TNF receptor-associated factor 1 (TRAF1), located on Chromosome 9q33–34, would represent relevant candidate genes for RA. We therefore aimed to investigate whether this locus would play a role in RA.
Methods and Findings
We performed a multitiered case-control study using 40 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) from the TRAF1 and C5 (TRAF1/C5) region in a set of 290 RA patients and 254 unaffected participants (controls) of Dutch origin. Stepwise replication of significant SNPs was performed in three independent sample sets from the Netherlands (ncases/controls = 454/270), Sweden (ncases/controls = 1,500/1,000) and US (ncases/controls = 475/475). We observed a significant association (p < 0.05) of SNPs located in a haplotype block that encompasses a 65 kb region including the 3′ end of C5 as well as TRAF1. A sliding window analysis revealed an association peak at an intergenic region located ∼10 kb from both C5 and TRAF1. This peak, defined by SNP14/rs10818488, was confirmed in a total of 2,719 RA patients and 1,999 controls (odds ratiocommon = 1.28, 95% confidence interval 1.17–1.39, pcombined = 1.40 × 10−8) with a population-attributable risk of 6.1%. The A (minor susceptibility) allele of this SNP also significantly correlates with increased disease progression as determined by radiographic damage over time in RA patients (p = 0.008).
Using a candidate-gene approach we have identified a novel genetic risk factor for RA. Our findings indicate that a polymorphism in the TRAF1/C5 region increases the susceptibility to and severity of RA, possibly by influencing the structure, function, and/or expression levels of TRAF1 and/or C5.
Using a candidate-gene approach, Rene Toes and colleagues identified a novel genetic risk factor for rheumatoid arthritis in theTRAF1/C5 region.
Editors' Summary
Rheumatoid arthritis is a very common chronic illness that affects around 1% of people in developed countries. It is caused by an abnormal immune reaction to various tissues within the body; as well as affecting joints and causing an inflammatory arthritis, it can also affect many other organs of the body. Severe rheumatoid arthritis can be life-threatening, but even mild forms of the disease cause substantial illness and disability. Current treatments aim to give symptomatic relief with the use of simple analgesics, or anti-inflammatory drugs. In addition, most patients are also treated with what are known as disease-modifying agents, which aim to prevent joint damage. Rheumatoid arthritis is known to have a genetic component. For example, an association has been shown with the part of the genome that contains the human leukocyte antigens (HLAs), which are involved in the immune response. Information on other genes involved would be helpful both for understanding the underlying cause of the disease and possibly for the discovery of new treatments.
Why Was This Study Done?
Previous work in mice that have a disease similar to human rheumatoid arthritis has identified a number of possible candidate genes. One of these genes, complement component 5 (C5) is involved in the complement system—a primitive system within the body that is involved in the defense against foreign molecules. In humans the gene for C5 is located on Chromosome 9 close to another gene involved in the inflammatory response, TNF receptor-associated factor 1 (TRAF1). A preliminary study in humans of this region had shown some evidence, albeit weak, to suggest that this region might be associated with rheumatoid arthritis. The authors set out to look in more detail, and in a larger group of individuals, to see if they could prove this association.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers took 40 genetic markers, known as single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), from across the region that included the C5 and TRAF1 genes. SNPs have each been assigned a unique reference number that specifies a point in the human genome, and each is present in alternate forms so can be differentiated. They compared which of the alternate forms were present in 290 patients with rheumatoid arthritis and 254 unaffected participants of Dutch origin. They then repeated the study in three other groups of patients and controls of Dutch, Swedish, and US origin. They found a consistent association with rheumatoid arthritis of one region of 65 kilobases (a small distance in genetic terms) that included one end of the C5 gene as well as the TRAF1 gene. They could refine the area of interest to a piece marked by one particular SNP that lay between the genes. They went on to show that the genetic region in which these genes are located may be involved in the binding of a protein that modifies the transcription of genes, thus providing a possible explanation for the association. Furthermore, they showed that one of the alternate versions of the marker in this region was associated with more aggressive disease.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The finding of a genetic association is the first step in identifying a genetic component of a disease. The strength of this study is that a novel genetic susceptibility factor for RA has been identified and that the overall result is consistent in four different populations as well as being associated with disease severity. Further work will need to be done to confirm the association in other populations and then to identify the precise genetic change involved. Hopefully this work will lead to new avenues of investigation for therapy.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
• Medline Plus, the health information site for patients from the US National Library of Medicine, has a page of resources on rheumatoid arthritis
• The UK's National Health Service online information site has information on rheumatoid arthritis
• The Arthritis Research Campaign, a UK charity that funds research on all types of arthritis, has a booklet with information for patients on rheumatoid arthritis
• Reumafonds, a Dutch arthritis foundation, gives information on rheumatoid arthritis (in Dutch)
• Autocure is an initiative whose objective is to transform knowledge obtained from molecular research into a cure for an increasing number of patients suffering from inflammatory rheumatic diseases
• The European league against Rheumatism, an organisation which represents the patient, health professionals, and scientific societies of rheumatology of all European nations
PMCID: PMC1976626  PMID: 17880261
8.  Saposin C Coupled Lipid Nanovesicles Specifically Target Arthritic Mouse Joints for Optical Imaging of Disease Severity 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(3):e33966.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease affecting approximately 1% of the population and is characterized by cartilage and bone destruction ultimately leading to loss of joint function. Early detection and intervention of disease provides the best hope for successful treatment and preservation of joint mobility and function. Reliable and non-invasive techniques that accurately measure arthritic disease onset and progression are lacking. We recently developed a novel agent, SapC-DOPS, which is composed of the membrane-associated lysosomal protein saposin C (SapC) incorporated into 1,2-dioleoyl-sn-glycero-3-phospho-L-serine (DOPS) lipid nanovesicles. SapC-DOPS has a high fusogenic affinity for phosphatidylserine-enriched microdomains on surfaces of target cell membranes. Incorporation of a far-red fluorophore, CellVue Maroon (CVM), into the nanovesicles allows for in vivo non-invasive visualization of the agent in targeted tissue. Given that phosphatidylserine is present only on the inner leaflet of healthy plasma membranes but is “flipped” to the outer leaflet upon cell damage, we hypothesized that SapC-DOPS would target tissue damage associated with inflammatory arthritis due to local surface-exposure of phosphatidylserine. Optical imaging with SapC-DOPS-CVM in two distinct models of arthritis, serum-transfer arthritis (e.g., K/BxN) and collagen-induced arthritis (CIA) revealed robust SapC-DOPS-CVM specific localization to arthritic paws and joints in live animals. Importantly, intensity of localized fluorescent signal correlated with macroscopic arthritic disease severity and increased with disease progression. Flow cytometry of cells extracted from arthritic joints demonstrated that SapC-DOPS-CVM localized to an average of 7–8% of total joint cells and primarily to CD11b+Gr-1+ cells. Results from the current studies strongly support the application of SapC-DOPS-CVM for advanced clinical and research applications including: detecting early arthritis onset, assessing disease progression real-time in live subjects, and providing novel information regarding cell types that may mediate arthritis progression within joints.
PMCID: PMC3314692  PMID: 22470501
9.  Potential Role of Decoy B7-H4 in the Pathogenesis of Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Mouse Model Informed by Clinical Data 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(10):e1000166.
Finding an association between soluble B7-H4 and rheumatoid arthritis severity, Lieping Chen and colleagues use a mouse model to show that the soluble form blocks the inhibitory function of cell-surface B7-H4.
A pathogenic hallmark of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is persistent inflammatory responses in target tissues and organs. Immune responses mediated by T cells and autoantibodies are known to play pivotal roles. A possible interpretation for this observation is a loss of negative regulation of autoimmune responses. Here we sought to investigate whether B7-H4, a cell surface inhibitory molecule of the B7-CD28 signaling pathway, may play a role in the pathogenesis of RA.
Methods and Findings
In a cross-sectional study of a clinical convenience sample using monoclonal antibodies against human B7-H4 molecules, we detected high levels of the soluble form of B7-H4 (sH4) in the sera of 65% of patients with RA (n = 68) versus only 13% of healthy donors (n = 24). Elevated sH4 was associated with an increased disease severity score (DAS28) in a cross-sectional analysis. In a mouse model of RA, transgenic expression of sH4 or genetic deletion of B7-H4 accelerated the progression of collagen-induced arthritis, accompanied by enhanced T and B cell–mediated autoimmune responses as well as increased activity of neutrophils. Expression in vivo of an agonist, a B7-H4-immunoglobulin Fc fusion protein, profoundly suppressed disease progression in the mouse model.
Our findings in mice indicate that sH4 acts as a decoy molecule to block the inhibitory functions of cell-surface B7-H4, leading to exacerbation of collagen-induced arthritis. If the preliminary correlation between sH4 levels and disease activity in patients with RA can be confirmed to reflect a similar mechanism, these findings suggest a novel target for treatment approaches.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic disease caused by abnormal immune responses. In RA, the body's own immune system mainly attacks the joints, causing inflammation in their lining, but can affect other tissues and organs in the body. About 1% of the population in developed countries suffer from RA, and it can result in long-term joint damage, causing significant illness and disability. Sufferers have chronic pain, loss of function of the joint, and loss of mobility. The cause of RA is unknown and there is no known cure. However, neutrophils (an immune cell important for inflammation) are thought to contribute to the initiation of RA. Understanding the primary mechanisms behind the development of RA, and where the body's immune system goes wrong, is fundamental not only to find new treatments for the disease but also to aid diagnosis to help patients get treatment to help control their often debilitating symptoms.
Why Was the Study Done?
Regulation of the immune system is necessary to prevent overactivity. Interruptions to the normal signals that moderate the immune response can lead to destruction of normal tissues. Previous studies have shown that the B7 family of proteins, which interact with CD28 signaling proteins on the surface of immune cells, are important regulators of the immune response. B7 proteins have also been found to exist in soluble forms that have been implicated in the development of rheumatoid diseases, but their exact role is not well understood. In the current study, researchers examined a member of the B7 family, B7-H4, which normally acts as an inhibitor of the immune response, to find out whether this signaling molecule affects the immune response and has a role in the development of RA.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers collected blood from 68 patients with RA and 24 healthy volunteers, and measured levels of soluble B7-H4, also known as sH4. They found sH4 in blood from 65% of patients with RA, compared with only 13% of healthy people. The levels of sH4 were significantly higher in RA patients (96.1 ng/ml) compared to healthy people (<5 ng/ml). Moreover, the highest levels of sH4 were found in patients with the most severe forms of RA, as measured by a standard index score that includes general health, the number of swollen joints, and the amount of inflammation. The researchers then used a mouse model of RA to explore how sH4 might contribute to RA. First, they injected mice with plasmids (circular pieces of DNA that can be used to transfer genes into organisms) carrying the gene for sH4 and looked at how overexpression of sH4 affected the development of arthritis. They also looked at how deleting the B7-H4 gene in mice affected symptoms. Both overexpression of sH4 and deletion of B7-H4 caused inflammation in the mice; symptoms appeared earlier and were more severe. Furthermore, the effects of sH4 were shown to be dependent on neutrophils. Finally, the researchers successfully prevented the development of disease in mice by using a protein to mimic the normal signaling by B7-H4, which inhibits the immune response.
What Do these Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that the signaling molecule B7-H4 may be involved in the development of RA. B7-H4 normally acts as an inhibitor of the immune response to suppress inflammation, but when its action is blocked the immune response is no longer suppressed, and an inappropriate and increased immune reaction occurs. sH4 is thought to act as a decoy that blocks binding of B7-H4 to its receptor, thereby preventing an inhibitory signal to the immune system. Overexpression of sH4 worsens the symptoms in the mouse model of RA. Intriguingly, high levels of sH4 were also present in RA patients and were associated with increased severity of disease. This study does not establish sH4 as a cause of RA but implicates sH4 as a cause in the progression of increased inflammation in this disease. Immune system signaling molecules have potential as novel targets for treatment of RA and other autoimmune disorders. However, further studies are needed to test whether sH4 has a direct role in the development of RA in humans.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
MedlinePlus has a topic page on RA providing extensive information on symptoms and treatment for RA and access to related clinical trials and medical literature
The National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (UK) is a patient-led charity to provide information, education, and support for people with RA
The Arthritis Foundation (US) is a national not-for-profit organization that supports public health education and research funding, and provides informational resources for people with arthritis
PMCID: PMC2760136  PMID: 19841745
10.  Matrix metalloproteinase-8 deficiency increases joint inflammation and bone erosion in the K/BxN serum-transfer arthritis model 
Arthritis Research & Therapy  2010;12(6):R224.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which joint inflammation leads to progressive cartilage and bone erosion. Matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) implicated in homeostasis of the extracellular matrix play a central role in cartilage degradation. However, the role of specific MMPs in arthritis pathogenesis is largely unknown. The aim of the present study was to investigate the role of Mmp-8 (collagenase-2) in an arthritis model.
Arthritis was induced in Mmp8-deficient and wildtype mice by K/BxN serum transfer. Arthritis severity was measured by a clinical index and ankle sections were scored for synovial inflammation, cartilage damage and bone erosion. cDNA microarray analysis, real-time PCR and western blot were performed to identify differential changes in gene expression between mice lacking Mmp8 and controls.
Mmp8 deficiency increased the severity of arthritis, although the incidence of disease was similar in control and deficient mice. Increased clinical score was associated with exacerbated synovial inflammation and bone erosion. We also found that the absence of Mmp8 led to increased expression of IL-1β, pentraxin-3 (PTX3) and prokineticin receptor 2 (PROKR2) in arthritic mice joints.
Lack of Mmp-8 is accompanied by exacerbated synovial inflammation and bone erosion in the K/BxN serum-transfer arthritis model, indicating that this Mmp has a protective role in arthritis.
PMCID: PMC3046537  PMID: 21190566
11.  Abnormal bone remodelling in inflammatory arthritis 
Canadian Journal of Surgery  1998;41(4):264-271.
Osteopenia is responsible for substantial comorbidity in patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and is an important factor in the surgical management of joint disease. In animal models of bone loss stimulated by inflammatory arthritis, increased bone remodelling and altered microstructure of bone have been documented. The subchondral bone plate near the joint surface is narrow and perforated by vascular inflammatory invasion, and in the shaft the thin cortices are weakened by giant resorption defects. Biomechanical tests and a mathematical model of bone strength suggest that cortical defects, much larger than those found in normal osteonal remodelling, are principally responsible for the experimentally observed loss of strength. Similarly, these defects may explain the increased femoral fracture risk in rheumatoid arthritis.
The osteoclast, the cell resorbing bone, is demonstrated in increased number and activity in rheumatoid arthritis and in animal models. Bisphosphonates, drugs that inhibit osteoclast function, have been shown experimentally to reduce both focal and generalized osteopenia and to prevent loss of bone strength. Bisphosphonates also protect articular cartilage from damage characteristic of inflammatory arthritis. The mechanism of chondroprotection may be prevention of subchondral bone resorption by the osteoclast and also an altered distribution of bone marrow cells. Thus, bisphosphonates, currently in clinical use for other bone metabolic diseases, appear to have potential as prophylaxis and treatment for osteopenia and joint damage in inflammatory arthritis.
PMCID: PMC3950080  PMID: 9711159
12.  BMP Receptor Signaling Is Required for Postnatal Maintenance of Articular Cartilage 
PLoS Biology  2004;2(11):e355.
Articular cartilage plays an essential role in health and mobility, but is frequently damaged or lost in millions of people that develop arthritis. The molecular mechanisms that create and maintain this thin layer of cartilage that covers the surface of bones in joint regions are poorly understood, in part because tools to manipulate gene expression specifically in this tissue have not been available. Here we use regulatory information from the mouse Gdf5 gene (a bone morphogenetic protein [BMP] family member) to develop new mouse lines that can be used to either activate or inactivate genes specifically in developing joints. Expression of Cre recombinase from Gdf5 bacterial artificial chromosome clones leads to specific activation or inactivation of floxed target genes in developing joints, including early joint interzones, adult articular cartilage, and the joint capsule. We have used this system to test the role of BMP receptor signaling in joint development. Mice with null mutations in Bmpr1a are known to die early in embryogenesis with multiple defects. However, combining a floxed Bmpr1a allele with the Gdf5-Cre driver bypasses this embryonic lethality, and leads to birth and postnatal development of mice missing the Bmpr1a gene in articular regions. Most joints in the body form normally in the absence of Bmpr1a receptor function. However, articular cartilage within the joints gradually wears away in receptor-deficient mice after birth in a process resembling human osteoarthritis. Gdf5-Cre mice provide a general system that can be used to test the role of genes in articular regions. BMP receptor signaling is required not only for early development and creation of multiple tissues, but also for ongoing maintenance of articular cartilage after birth. Genetic variation in the strength of BMP receptor signaling may be an important risk factor in human osteoarthritis, and treatments that mimic or augment BMP receptor signaling should be investigated as a possible therapeutic strategy for maintaining the health of joint linings.
Through genetic manipulation, these authors have reduced signaling by bone morphogenetic factors in joint regions, and created a valuable model for the study of arthritis
PMCID: PMC523229  PMID: 15492776
13.  FcgammaR expression on macrophages is related to severity and chronicity of synovial inflammation and cartilage destruction during experimental immune-complex-mediated arthritis (ICA) 
Arthritis Research  2000;2(6):489-503.
We investigated the role of Fcγ receptors (FcγRs) on synovial macrophages in immune-complex-mediated arthritis (ICA). ICA elicited in knee joints of C57BL/6 mice caused a short-lasting, florid inflammation and reversible loss of proteoglycans (PGs), moderate chondrocyte death, and minor erosion of the cartilage. In contrast, when ICA was induced in knee joints of Fc receptor (FcR) γ-chain-/- C57BL/6 mice, which lack functional FcγRI and RIII, inflammation and cartilage destruction were prevented. When ICA was elicited in DBA/1 mice, a very severe, chronic inflammation was observed, and significantly more chondrocyte death and cartilage erosion than in arthritic C57BL/6 mice. The synovial lining and peritoneal macrophages of naïve DBA/1 mice expressed a significantly higher level of FcγRs than was seen in C57BL/6 mice. Moreover, elevated and prolonged expression of IL-1 was found after stimulation of these cells with immune complexes. Zymosan or streptococcal cell walls caused comparable inflammation and only mild cartilage destruction in all strains. We conclude that FcγR expression on synovial macrophages may be related to the severity of synovial inflammation and cartilage destruction during ICA.
Fcγ receptors (FcγRs) present on cells of the haematopoietic lineage communicate with IgG-containing immune complexes that are abundant in the synovial tissue of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In mice, three classes of FcγR (RI, RII, and RIII) have been described. Binding of these receptors leads to either activation (FcγRI and RIII) or deactivation (FcγRII) of intracellular transduction pathways. Together, the expression of activating and inhibitory receptors is thought to drive immune-complex-mediated diseases.
Earlier studies in our laboratory showed that macrophages of the synovial lining are of utmost importance in the onset and propagation of immune-complex-driven arthritic diseases. Selective depletion of macrophages in the joint downregulated both inflammation and cartilage destruction. As all three classes of FcγR are expressed on synovial macrophages, these cells are among the first that come in contact with immune complexes deposited in the joint. Recently, we observed that when immune complexes were injected into the knee joints of mice, strains susceptible to collagen-type-II arthritis (DBA/1, B10.RIII) developed more severe arthritis than nonsusceptible strains did, or even developed chronic arthritis. One reason why these strains are more susceptible might be their higher levels of FcγRs on macrophage membranes. To test this hypothesis, we investigated the role of FcγRs in inflammation and cartilage damage during immune-complex-mediated arthritis (ICA). First, we studied arthritis and subsequent cartilage damage in mice lacking functional FcγRI and RIII (FcR γ-chain-/- mice). Next, DBA/1 mice, which are prone to develop collagen-type-II arthritis (`collagen-induced arthritis'; CIA) and are hypersensitive to immune complexes, were compared with control C57BL/6 mice as regards cartilage damage and the expression and function of FcγRs on their macrophages.
To examine whether FcγR expression on macrophages is related to severity of synovial inflammation and cartilage destruction during immune-complex-mediated joint inflammation.
ICA was induced in three strains of mice (FcR γ-chain-/-, C57BL/6, and DBA/1, which have, respectively, no functional FcγRI and RIII, intermediate basal expression of FcγRs, and high basal expression of FcγRs) by passive immunisation using rabbit anti-lysozyme antibodies, followed by poly-L-lysine lysozyme injection into the right knee joint 1 day later. In other experiments, streptococcal-cell-wall (SCW)- or zymosan-induced arthritis was induced by injecting SCW (25 μg) or zymosan (180 μg) directly into the knee joint. At several time points after arthritis induction, knee joints were dissected and studied either histologically (using haematoxylin/eosin or safranin O staining) or immuno-histochemically. The arthritis severity and the cartilage damage were scored separately on an arbitrary scale of 0-3.
FcγRs were immunohistochemically detected using the monoclonal antibody 2.4G2, which detects both FcγRII and RIII. Deposition of IgG and C3c in the arthritic joint tissue was also detected immunohistochemically. Expression of FcγRs by murine peritoneal macrophages was measured using a fluorescence-activated cell sorter (FACS).
Peritoneal macrophages were stimulated using heat-aggregated gamma globulins (HAGGs), and production of IL-1 was measured using a bioassay. To assess the levels of IL-1 and its receptor antagonist (IL-1Ra) during arthritis, tissue was dissected and washed in RPMI medium. Washouts were tested for levels of IL-1 and IL-1Ra using radioimmunoassay and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. mRNA was isolated from the tissue, and levels of macrophage inflammatory protein (MIP)-2, monocyte chemoattractant protein (MCP)-1, IL-1, and IL-1Ra were determined using semiquantitative reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR).
ICA induced in knee joints of C57BL/6 mice caused a florid inflammation at day 3 after induction. To investigate whether this arthritis was FcγR-mediated, ICA was induced in FcR γ-chain-/- mice, which lack functional FcγRI and RIII. At day3, virtually no inflammatory cells were found in their knee joints. Levels of mRNA of IL-1, IL-1Ra, MCP-1, and MIP-2, which are involved in the onset of this arthritis, were significantly lower in FcR γ-chain-/- mice than in control C57BL/6 mice. Levels of IL-1 protein were also measured. At 6 h after ICA induction, FcR γ-chain-/- mice and control C57BL/6 mice showed similar IL-1 production as measured by protein level. By 24 h after induction, however, IL-1 production in the FcR γ-chain-/- mice was below the detection limit, whereas the controls were still producing a significant amount. To investigate whether the difference in reaction to immune complexes between the DBA/1 and C57BL/6 mice might be due to variable expression of FcγRs in the knee joint, expression in situ of FcγRs in naïve knee joints of these mice was determined. The monoclonal antibody 2.4G2, which detects both FcγRII and RIII, stained macrophages from the synovial lining of DBA/1 mice more intensely than those from C57BL/6 mice. This finding suggests a higher constitutive expression of FcγRs by macrophages of the autoimmune-prone DBA/1 mice. To quantify the difference in FcγR expression on macrophages of the two strains, we determined the occurrence of FcγRs on peritoneal macrophages by FACS analysis. The levels of FcγR expressed by macrophages were twice as high in the DBA/1 mice as in the C57BL/6 mice (mean fluorescence, respectively, 440 ± 50 and 240 ± 30 intensity per cell). When peritoneal macrophages of both strains were stimulated with immune complexes (HAGGs), we found that the difference in basal FcγR expression was functional. The stimulated macrophages from DBA/1 mice had significantly higher IL-1α levels (120 and 135 pg/ml at 24 and 48 h, respectively) than cells from C57BL/6 mice (45 and 50 pg/ml, respectively).
When arthritis was induced using other arthritogenic triggers than immune complexes (zymosan, SCW), all the mouse strains tested (DBA/1, FcR γ-chain-/-, and C57BL/6) showed similar inflammation, indicating that the differences described above are found only when immune complexes are used to elicit arthritis.
We next compared articular cartilage damage in arthritic joints of the three mouse strains FcR γ-chain-/-, C57BL/6 (intermediate basal expression of FcγRs), and DBA/1 (high basal expression of FcγRs). Three indicators of cartilage damage were investigated: depletion of PGs, chondrocyte death, and erosion of the cartilage matrix. At day 3 after induction of ICA, there was no PG depletion in FcR γ-chain-/- mice, whereas PG depletion in the matrix of the C57BL/6 mice was marked and that in the arthritic DBA/1 mice was even greater. PG depletion was still massive at days 7 and 14 in the DBA/1 mice, whereas by day 14 the PG content was almost completely restored in knee joints of the C57BL/6 mice. Chondrocyte death and erosion of cartilage matrix, two indicators of more severe cartilage destruction, were significantly higher in the DBA/1 than in the C57BL/6 mice, while both indicators were completely absent in the FcR γ-chain-/- mice. Again, when arthritis was induced using other triggers (SCW, zymosan), all strains showed similar PG depletion and no chondrocyte death or matrix erosion. These findings underline the important role of immune complexes and FcγRs in irreversible cartilage damage.
Our findings indicate that inflammation and subsequent cartilage damage caused by immune complexes may be related to the occurrence of FcγRs on macrophages. The absence of functional FcγRI and RIII prevented inflammation and cartilage destruction after induction of ICA, whereas high basal expression of FcγRs on resident joint macrophages of similarly treated mice susceptible to autoimmune arthritis was correlated with markedly more synovial inflammation and cartilage destruction. The difference in joint inflammation between the three strains was not due to different susceptibilities to inflammation per se, since intra-articular injection of zymosan or SCW caused comparable inflammation. Although extensive inflammatory cell mass was found in the synovium of all strains after intra-articular injection of zymosan, no irreversible cartilage damage (chondrocyte death or matrix erosion) was found. ICA induced in C57BL/6 and DBA/1 mice did cause irreversible cartilage damage at later time points, indicating that immune complexes and FcγRs play an important role in inducing irreversible cartilage damage. Macrophages communicate with immune complexes via Fcγ receptors. Absence of functional activating receptors completely abrogates the synovial inflammation, as was shown after ICA induction in FcR γ-chain-/- mice. However, the γ-chain is essential not only in FcγRI and RIII but also for FcεRI (found on mast cells) and the T cell receptor (TcR)-CD3 (Tcells) complex of γδT cells. However, T, B, or mast cells do not play a role in this arthritis that is induced by passive immunisation. Furthermore, this effect was not caused by a difference in clearance of IgG or complement deposition in the tissue. In this study, DBA/1 mice, which are susceptible to collagen-induced autoimmune arthritis and in a recent study have been shown to react hypersensitively to immune complexes, are shown to express higher levels of FcγRs on both synovial and peritoneal macrophages. Because antibodies directed against the different subclasses of FcγR are not available, no distinction could be made between FcγRII and RIII. Genetic differences in DBA/1 mice in genes coding for or regulating FcγRs may be responsible for altered FcγR expression. If so, these mouse strains would have a heightened risk for immune-complex-mediated diseases.
To provide conclusive evidence for the roles of the various classes of FcγR during ICA, experiments are needed in which FcγRs are blocked with specific antibodies, or in which knockout mice lacking one specific class of FcγR are used. The only available specific antibody to FcγR (2.4G2) has a stimulatory effect on cells once bound to the receptor, and therefore cannot be used in blocking experiments. Experiments using specific knockout mice are now being done in our laboratory.
Macrophages are the dominant type of cell present in chronic inflammation during RA and their number has been shown to correlate well with severe cartilage destruction. Apart from that, in humans, these synovial tissue macrophages express activating FcRs, mainly FcγIIIa, which may lead to activation of these macrophages by IgG-containing immune complexes. The expression of FcRs on the surface of these cells may have important implications for joint inflammation and severe cartilage destruction and therefore FCRs may constitute a new target for therapeutic intervention.
PMCID: PMC17821  PMID: 11056679
autoimmunity; cytokines; Fc receptors; inflammation; macrophages
14.  Local Gene Transfer of OPG Prevents Joint Damage and Disease Progression in Collagen-Induced Arthritis 
The Scientific World Journal  2013;2013:718061.
This study examined the influence of osteoprotegerin (OPG) gene transfer on a murine collagen-induced arthritis model. A single periarticular injection of AAV-OPG or AAV-LacZ on the arthritic paw successfully incorporated the exogenous gene to the local tissue and resulted in marked transgene expression in the joint homogenate for at least three weeks. Clinical disease scores were significantly improved in OPG treated mice starting at 28-day post-treatment (P < 0.05). Histological assessment demonstrated that OPG gene transfer dramatically protected mice from erosive joint changes compared with LacZ controls (P < 0.05), although treatment appeared less effective on the local inflammatory progress. MicroCT data suggested significant protection against subchondral bone mineral density changes in OPG treated CIA mice. Interestingly, mRNA expressions of IFN-g and MMP3 were noticeably diminished following OPG gene transfer. Overall, gene transfer of OPG effectively inhibited the arthritis-associated periarticular bone erosion and preserved the architecture of arthritic joints, and the study provides evidence that the cartilage protection of the OPG gene therapy may be associated with the down-regulation of MMP3 expression.
PMCID: PMC3814078  PMID: 24222748
15.  Sclerostin inhibition reverses systemic, periarticular and local bone loss in arthritis 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2013;72(10):1732-1736.
To test whether inhibition of sclerostin by a targeted monoclonal antibody (Scl-Ab) protects from bone and cartilage damage in inflammatory arthritis. Sclerostin is a potent inhibitor of bone formation and may be responsible for the low level of bone repair in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
Human tumour necrosis factor transgenic mice (hTNFtg mice) developing inflammatory arthritis and local and bone loss were administered either vehicle, anti-TNF antibody, Scl-Ab, or a combination of both agents. Inflammation, systemic and periarticular bone loss, bone erosion and cartilage damage were evaluated at baseline (week 8) and after 3 weeks of treatment by clinical assessment, micro-CT and histology.
Scl-Ab did not affect joint swelling or synovitis. Systemic bone loss in the spine and periarticular bone loss in the proximal tibia were completely blocked and partially reversed by inhibition of sclerostin but not by inhibition of TNF. Moreover, Scl-Ab completely arrested the progression of bone erosion in hTNFtg mice and in combination with TNF inhibition even led to significant regression of cortical bone erosions. Protective effects of Scl-Ab were also observed for the articular cartilage.
These data suggest that sclerostin inhibition is a powerful tool to enhance bone repair in inflammatory arthritis.
PMCID: PMC3786639  PMID: 23666928
Anti-TNF; Rheumatoid Arthritis; Inflammation; Bone Mineral Density
16.  Gene therapy in animal models of rheumatoid arthritis: are we ready for the patients? 
Arthritis Research & Therapy  2004;6(5):183-196.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disease of the synovial joints, with progressive destruction of cartilage and bone. Anti-tumour necrosis factor-α therapies (e.g. soluble tumour necrosis factor receptors) ameliorate disease in 60–70% of patients with RA. However, the need for repeated systemic administration of relatively high doses in order to achieve constant therapeutic levels in the joints, and the reported side effects are downsides to this systemic approach. Several gene therapeutic approaches have been developed to ameliorate disease in animal models of arthritis either by restoring the cytokine balance or by genetic synovectomy. In this review we summarize strategies to improve transduction of synovial cells, to achieve stable transgene expression using integrating viruses such as adeno-associated viruses, and to achieve transcriptionally regulated expression so that drug release can meet the variable demands imposed by the intermittent course of RA. Evidence from animal models convincingly supports the application of gene therapy in RA, and the feasibility of gene therapy was recently demonstrated in phase I clinical trials.
PMCID: PMC546285  PMID: 15380032
arthritis; cytokines; gene therapy; genetic synovectomy; transcriptional regulation
17.  Loss of MMP-2 disrupts skeletal and craniofacial development, and results in decreased bone mineralization, joint erosion, and defects in osteoblast and osteoclast growth 
Human molecular genetics  2007;16(9):1113-1123.
The “vanishing bone” or inherited osteolysis/arthritis syndromes represent a heterogeneous group of skeletal disorders characterized by mineralization defects of affected bones and joints. Differing in anatomical distribution, severity, and associated syndromic features, gene identification in each “vanishing bone” disorder should provide unique insights into genetic/molecular pathways contributing to the overall control of skeletal growth and development. We previously described and then demonstrated that the novel autosomal recessive osteolysis/arthritis syndrome, Multicentric Osteolysis with Arthritis (MOA [MIM #605156]), was caused by inactivating mutations in the MMP2 gene (1). These in vivo results were counterintuitive and unexpected since previous in vitro studies suggested that MMP-2 overexpression and increased activity, not deficiency, would result in the bone and joint features of MOA. The apparent lack of a murine model (2) has hindered studies on disease pathogenesis and, more fundamentally, in addressing the paradox of how functional loss of a single proteolytic enzyme results in an apparent increase in bone loss. Here, we report that Mmp2-/- mice display attenuated features of human MOA including progressive loss of bone mineral density, articular cartilage destruction, and abnormal long bone and craniofacial development. Moreover, these changes are associated with markedly and developmentally-restricted decreases in osteoblast and osteoclast numbers in vivo. Mmp2-/- mice have ∼50% fewer osteoblasts and osteoclasts than control littermates at 4 days of life but these differences have nearly resolved by 4 weeks of age. In addition, despite normal cell numbers in vivo at 8 weeks of life, Mmp2-/- bone marrow cells are unable to effectively support osteoblast and osteoclast growth and differentiation in culture. Targeted inhibition of MMP-2 using siRNA in human SaOS2 and murine MC3T3 osteoblast cell lines resulted in decreased cell proliferation rates. Taken together, our findings suggest that MMP-2 plays a direct role in early skeletal development and bone cell growth and proliferation. Thus, Mmp2-/- mice provide a valuable biologic resource for studying the pathophysiologic mechanisms underlying the human disease and defining the in vivo physiologic role of MMP-2.
PMCID: PMC2576517  PMID: 17400654
18.  Ectopic Lymphoid Structures Support Ongoing Production of Class-Switched Autoantibodies in Rheumatoid Synovium 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(1):e1.
Follicular structures resembling germinal centres (GCs) that are characterized by follicular dendritic cell (FDC) networks have long been recognized in chronically inflamed tissues in autoimmune diseases, including the synovium of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). However, it is debated whether these ectopic structures promote autoimmunity and chronic inflammation driving the production of pathogenic autoantibodies. Anti-citrullinated protein/peptide antibodies (ACPA) are highly specific markers of RA, predict a poor prognosis, and have been suggested to be pathogenic. Therefore, the main study objectives were to determine whether ectopic lymphoid structures in RA synovium: (i) express activation-induced cytidine deaminase (AID), the enzyme required for somatic hypermutation and class-switch recombination (CSR) of Ig genes; (ii) support ongoing CSR and ACPA production; and (iii) remain functional in a RA/severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) chimera model devoid of new immune cell influx into the synovium.
Methods and Findings
Using immunohistochemistry (IHC) and quantitative Taqman real-time PCR (QT-PCR) in synovial tissue from 55 patients with RA, we demonstrated that FDC+ structures invariably expressed AID with a distribution resembling secondary lymphoid organs. Further, AID+/CD21+ follicular structures were surrounded by ACPA+/CD138+ plasma cells, as demonstrated by immune reactivity to citrullinated fibrinogen. Moreover, we identified a novel subset of synovial AID+/CD20+ B cells outside GCs resembling interfollicular large B cells. In order to gain direct functional evidence that AID+ structures support CSR and in situ manufacturing of class-switched ACPA, 34 SCID mice were transplanted with RA synovium and humanely killed at 4 wk for harvesting of transplants and sera. Persistent expression of AID and Iγ-Cμ circular transcripts (identifying ongoing IgM-IgG class-switching) was observed in synovial grafts expressing FDCs/CD21L. Furthermore, synovial mRNA levels of AID were closely associated with circulating human IgG ACPA in mouse sera. Finally, the survival and proliferation of functional B cell niches was associated with persistent overexpression of genes regulating ectopic lymphoneogenesis.
Our demonstration that FDC+ follicular units invariably express AID and are surrounded by ACPA-producing plasma cells provides strong evidence that ectopic lymphoid structures in the RA synovium are functional and support autoantibody production. This concept is further confirmed by evidence of sustained AID expression, B cell proliferation, ongoing CSR, and production of human IgG ACPA from GC+ synovial tissue transplanted into SCID mice, independently of new B cell influx from the systemic circulation. These data identify AID as a potential therapeutic target in RA and suggest that survival of functional synovial B cell niches may profoundly influence chronic inflammation, autoimmunity, and response to B cell–depleting therapies.
Costantino Pitzalis and colleagues show that lymphoid structures in synovial tissue of patients with rheumatoid arthritis support production of anti-citrullinated peptide antibodies, which continues following transplantation into SCID mice.
Editors' Summary
More than 1 million people in the United States have rheumatoid arthritis, an “autoimmune” condition that affects the joints. Normally, the immune system provides protection against infection by responding to foreign antigens (molecules that are unique to invading organisms) while ignoring self-antigens present in the body's own tissues. In autoimmune diseases, this ability to discriminate between self and non-self fails for unknown reasons and the immune system begins to attack human tissues. In rheumatoid arthritis, the lining of the joints (the synovium) is attacked, it becomes inflamed and thickened, and chemicals are released that damage all the tissues in the joint. Eventually, the joint may become so scarred that movement is no longer possible. Rheumatoid arthritis usually starts in the small joints in the hands and feet, but larger joints and other tissues (including the heart and blood vessels) can be affected. Its symptoms, which tend to fluctuate, include early morning joint pain, swelling, and stiffness, and feeling generally unwell. Although the disease is not always easy to diagnose, the immune systems of many people with rheumatoid arthritis make “anti-citrullinated protein/peptide antibodies” (ACPA). These “autoantibodies” (which some experts believe can contribute to the joint damage in rheumatoid arthritis) recognize self-proteins that contain the unusual amino acid citrulline, and their detection on blood tests can help make the diagnosis. Although there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, the recently developed biologic drugs, often used together with the more traditional disease-modifying therapies, are able to halt its progression by specifically blocking the chemicals that cause joint damage. Painkillers and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can reduce its symptoms, and badly damaged joints can sometimes be surgically replaced.
Why Was This Study Done?
Before scientists can develop a cure for rheumatoid arthritis, they need to know how and why autoantibodies are made that attack the joints in this common and disabling disease. B cells, the immune system cells that make antibodies, mature in structures known as “germinal centers” in the spleen and lymph nodes. In the germinal centers, immature B cells are exposed to antigens and undergo two genetic processes called “somatic hypermutation” and “class-switch recombination” that ensure that each B cell makes an antibody that sticks as tightly as possible to just one antigen. The B cells then multiply and enter the bloodstream where they help to deal with infections. Interestingly, the inflamed synovium of many patients with rheumatoid arthritis contains structures that resemble germinal centers. Could these ectopic (misplaced) lymphoid structures, which are characterized by networks of immune system cells called follicular dendritic cells (FDCs), promote autoimmunity and long-term inflammation by driving the production of autoantibodies within the joint itself? In this study, the researchers investigate this possibility.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers collected synovial tissue from 55 patients with rheumatoid arthritis and used two approaches, called immunohistochemistry and real-time PCR, to investigate whether FDC-containing structures in synovium expressed an enzyme called activation-induced cytidine deaminase (AID), which is needed for both somatic hypermutation and class-switch recombination. All the FDC-containing structures that the researchers found in their samples expressed AID. Furthermore, these AID-containing structures were surrounded by mature B cells making ACPAs. To test whether these B cells were derived from AID-expressing cells resident in the synovium rather than ACPA-expressing immune system cells coming into the synovium from elsewhere in the body, the researchers transplanted synovium from patients with rheumatoid arthritis under the skin of a special sort of mouse that largely lacks its own immune system. Four weeks later, the researchers found that the transplanted human lymphoid tissue was still making AID, that the level of AID expression correlated with the amount of human ACPA in the blood of the mice, and that the B cells in the transplant were proliferating.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that the ectopic lymphoid structures present in the synovium of some patients with rheumatoid arthritis are functional and are able to make ACPA. Because ACPA may be responsible for joint damage, the survival of these structures could, therefore, be involved in the development and progression of rheumatoid arthritis. More experiments are needed to confirm this idea, but these findings may explain why drugs that effectively clear B cells from the bloodstream do not always produce a marked clinical improvement in rheumatoid arthritis. Finally, they suggest that AID might provide a new target for the development of drugs to treat rheumatoid arthritis.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Rene Toes and Tom Huizinga
The MedlinePlus Encyclopedia has a page on rheumatoid arthritis (in English and Spanish). MedlinePlus provides links to other information on rheumatoid arthritis (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices information service has detailed information on rheumatoid arthritis
The US National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases provides Fast Facts, an easy to read publication for the public, and a more detailed Handbook on rheumatoid arthritis
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an overview on rheumatoid arthritis that includes statistics about this disease and its impact on daily life
PMCID: PMC2621263  PMID: 19143467
19.  TREM2-Transduced Myeloid Precursors Mediate Nervous Tissue Debris Clearance and Facilitate Recovery in an Animal Model of Multiple Sclerosis 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(4):e124.
In multiple sclerosis, inflammation can successfully be prevented, while promoting repair is still a major challenge. Microglial cells, the resident phagocytes of the central nervous system (CNS), are hematopoietic-derived myeloid cells and express the triggering receptor expressed on myeloid cells 2 (TREM2), an innate immune receptor. Myeloid cells are an accessible source for ex vivo gene therapy. We investigated whether myeloid precursor cells genetically modified to express TREM2 affect the disease course of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), an animal model of multiple sclerosis.
Methods and Findings
EAE was induced in mice by immunization with a myelin autoantigen. Intravenous application of TREM2-transduced bone marrow–derived myeloid precursor cells at the EAE peak led to an amelioration of clinical symptoms, reduction in axonal damage, and prevention of further demyelination. TREM2-transduced myeloid cells applied intravenously migrated into the inflammatory spinal cord lesions of EAE-diseased mice, showed increased lysosomal and phagocytic activity, cleared degenerated myelin, and created an anti-inflammatory cytokine milieu within the CNS.
Intravenously applied bone marrow–derived and TREM2-tranduced myeloid precursor cells limit tissue destruction and facilitate repair within the murine CNS by clearance of cellular debris during EAE. TREM2 is a new attractive target for promotion of repair and resolution of inflammation in multiple sclerosis and other neuroinflammatory diseases.
Myeloid precursors genetically modified to express TREM2 supported recovery in animals with experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis by phagocytosis and removal of apoptotic cellular debris.
Editors' Summary
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a progressive disease of the central nervous system (CNS; the brain and spinal cord) in which communications within the brain are disrupted. In healthy individuals, the brain controls the body by sending electrical messages along nerve fibers. Like electrical wires, these fibers have to be insulated to allow the efficient transfer of electrical impulses. This insulation is provided by myelin, a fatty tissue that surrounds the nerve fibers. In patients with MS, patchy myelin loss, inflammation, and scarring (sclerosis) disrupt nerve transmissions, causing weakness or paralysis of the limbs, balance and coordination problems, and numerous other symptoms. The damage to the myelin (which increases over time) is caused by the patient's immune system, but what triggers this abnormal behavior is unclear. There is no cure for MS, but drugs that modulate the immune system (for example, interferons and steroids) can slow its progression.
Why Was This Study Done?
Any treatment for MS needs to limit tissue destruction by the immune system and to promote the repair of the damaged myelin and nerve fibers. Although researchers have identified some agents that promote nerve repair, it is difficult to get them into the CNS, which is protected by an impermeable barrier. However, some cell types can migrate into the CNS so it might be possible to adapt them as delivery vehicles for therapeutic agents. In this study, the researchers investigated whether bone marrow–derived myeloid precursor cells (a source of several immune system cell types) might be useful for the treatment of MS, both as delivery vehicles and as a source of cells that can resolve inflammation and clear cellular debris from sites of myelin destruction; this clearance has to occur before nerves and myelin can be repaired. Myeloid precursor cells, the researchers reasoned, might satisfy both these requirements because they naturally migrate into the CNS where some turn into microglia, immune system cells that engulf and digest cellular debris.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers isolated myeloid precursor cells from mouse bone marrow and induced the expression of triggering receptor expressed on myeloid cells-2 (TREM2, a protein made by microglia) in them using a viral vector. They injected these TREM2-expressing cells into the veins of mice with experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE, an animal model of MS) and examined their migration into the spinal cord, their effect on EAE symptoms, and their effect on cell debris clearance and inflammatory responses in spinal cord lesions. Neither TREM2-expressing nor control myeloid precursor cells migrated into the spinal cord when injected into healthy mice or into animals just beginning to show the symptoms of EAE. However, both cell types migrated into the spinal cord when injected into animals when EAE symptoms were at their peak. The injection of TREM2-expressing myeloid precursor cells (but not control myeloid precursor cells) at this time reduced EAE symptoms and nerve damage, and halted myelin loss. It also increased the clearance of cell debris and myelin fragments and created an anti-inflammatory environment in the spinal cord lesions.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that the intravenous injection of bone marrow–derived myeloid precursor cells engineered to express TREM2 can reduce clinical symptoms and induce recovery in mice with EAE. Whether the TREM2-expressing myeloid precursor cells act locally in the CNS or indirectly via other immune system cells is not clear yet. In addition, the findings need to be replicated in more animals before this approach is tested in people. Nevertheless, the intravenous injection of cells of this type could provide a two-pronged approach to the treatment of MS (and other neuroinflammatory diseases). First, bone marrow–derived myeloid precursor cells that have been engineered to express TREM2 could help to treat MS by clearing tissue debris and reducing inflammation in spinal cord lesions. Second, the same cells could be used to deliver agents to the lesions that promote nerve repair. Importantly, these results suggest that TREM2-expressing myeloid precursor cells might have the potential to treat MS after the onset of clinical symptoms, an important consideration for a chronic disease that often indicates relapses by new clinical symptoms.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke patient information on multiple sclerosis (in English and Spanish)
UK National Health Service health encyclopedia information on multiple sclerosis
MedlinePlus encyclopedia pages on multiple sclerosis
The US National MS Society information on multiple sclerosis for patients and professionals (in English and Spanish)
UK MS Society information on multiple sclerosis for patients and professionals
Multiple Sclerosis International Federation information on multiple sclerosis for patients, caregivers, and professionals (in English, Arabic, German, Spanish, French, Italian and Russian)
PMCID: PMC1851623  PMID: 17425404
20.  Arthritis Gene Therapy and its Tortuous Path into the Clinic 
Arthritis is a disease of joints. The biology of joints makes them very difficult targets for drug delivery in a manner that is specific and selective. This is especially true for proteinaceous drugs (“biologics”). Gene transfer is the only technology that can solve the delivery problem in a clinically reasonable fashion. There is an abundance of pre-clinical data confirming that genes can be efficiently transferred to tissues within joints by intra-articular injection using a variety of different vectors in conjunction with ex vivo and in vivo strategies. Using the appropriate gene transfer technologies, long-term, intra-articular expression of anti-arthritic transgenes at therapeutic concentrations can be achieved. Numerous studies confirm that gene therapy is effective in treating experimental models of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis (OA) in the laboratory. A limited number of clinical trials have been completed, which confirm safety and feasibility but only three protocols have reached Phase II; as yet, there is no unambiguous evidence of efficacy in human disease. Only two clinical trials are presently underway, both Phase II studies using allogeneic chondrocytes expressing TGF-β1 for the treatment of OA. Phase I studies using adeno-associated virus to deliver IL-1Ra in OA and IFN-β in RA are going through the regulatory process. It is to be hoped that the recent successes in treating rare, Mendelian diseases by gene therapy will lead to accelerated development of genetic treatments for common, non-Medelian diseases, such as arthritis.
PMCID: PMC3602127  PMID: 23369825
21.  A model of inflammatory arthritis highlights a role for oncostatin M in pro-inflammatory cytokine-induced bone destruction via RANK/RANKL 
Arthritis Research & Therapy  2004;7(1):R57-R64.
Oncostatin M is a pro-inflammatory cytokine previously shown to promote marked cartilage destruction both in vitro and in vivo when in combination with IL-1 or tumour necrosis factor alpha. However, the in vivo effects of these potent cytokine combinations on bone catabolism are unknown. Using adenoviral gene transfer, we have overexpressed oncostatin M in combination with either IL-1 or tumour necrosis factor alpha intra-articularly in the knees of C57BL/6 mice. Both of these combinations induced marked bone damage and markedly increased tartrate-resistant acid phosphatase-positive multinucleate cell staining in the synovium and at the front of bone erosions. Furthermore, there was increased expression of RANK and its ligand RANKL in the inflammatory cells, in inflamed synovium and in articular cartilage of knee joints treated with the cytokine combinations compared with expression in joints treated with the cytokines alone or the control. This model of inflammatory arthritis demonstrates that, in vivo, oncostatin M in combination with either IL-1 or tumour necrosis factor alpha represents cytokine combinations that promote bone destruction. The model also provides further evidence that increased osteoclast-like, tartrate-resistant acid phosphatase-positive staining multinucleate cells and upregulation of RANK/RANKL in joint tissues are key factors in pathological bone destruction.
PMCID: PMC1064887  PMID: 15642143
bone; IL-1; oncostatin M; RANK; tumour necrosis factor alpha
22.  Chinese Herbal Formula Huo-Luo-Xiao-Ling Dan Protects against Bone Damage in Adjuvant Arthritis by Modulating the Mediators of Bone Remodeling 
Huo-luo-xiao-ling dan (HLXL) is an herbal mixture that has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other inflammatory disorders. Despite the availability of potent conventionally used drugs for RA, their limited efficacy in a proportion of patients coupled with their high cost and severe adverse effects has necessitated the search for novel therapeutics for this debilitating disease. Further, the control of both inflammation and bone damage is essential for effective management of arthritis. The aim of our study was to evaluate the efficacy of HLXL against arthritic bone damage in adjuvant arthritis (AA) model of RA. Our results show that HLXL treatment suppressed inflammatory arthritis and reduced bone and cartilage damage in the joints of arthritic Lewis rats. HLXL-induced protection against bone damage was mediated primarily via inhibition of mediators of osteoclastic bone remodeling (e.g., receptor activator of nuclear factor kappa-B ligand; RANKL), skewing of RANKL/osteoprotegerin (OPG) ratio in favor of antiosteoclastic activity, reduction in the number of osteoclasts in the arthrodial joint's bone, and inhibition of cytokine production and MMP activity. Our results suggest that HLXL might offer a promising alternative/adjunct treatment for both inflammation and bone damage in RA.
PMCID: PMC3670518  PMID: 23762133
23.  Inhibition of cartilage and bone destruction in adjuvant arthritis in the rat by a matrix metalloproteinase inhibitor 
Considerable evidence has associated the expression of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) with the degradation of cartilage and bone in chronic conditions such as arthritis. Direct evaluation of MMPs' role in vivo has awaited the development of MMP inhibitors with appropriate pharmacological properties. We have identified butanediamide, N4- hydroxy-2-(2-methylpropyl)-N1-[2-[[2-(morpholinyl)ethyl]-,[S- (R*,S*)] (GI168) as a potent MMP inhibitor with sufficient solubility and stability to permit evaluation in an experimental model of chronic destructive arthritis (adjuvant-induced arthritis) in rats. In this model, pronounced acute and chronic synovial inflammation, distal tibia and metatarsal marrow hyperplasia associated with osteoclasia, severe bone and cartilage destruction, and ectopic new bone growth are well developed by 3 wk after adjuvant injection. Rats were injected with Freund's adjuvant on day 0. GI168 was was administered systemically from days 8 to 21 by osmotic minipumps implanted subcutaneously. GI168 at 6, 12, and 25 mg/kg per d reduced ankle swelling in a dose-related fashion. Radiological and histological ankle joint evaluation on day 22 revealed a profound dose related inhibition of bone and cartilage destruction in treated rats relative to rats receiving vehicle alone. A significant reduction in edema, pannus formation, periosteal new bone growth and the numbers of adherent marrow osteoclasts was also noted. However, no significant decrease in polymorphonuclear and mononuclear leukocyte infiltration of synovium and marrow hematopoietic cellularity was seen. This unique profile of antiarthritic activity indicates that GI168 is osteo- and chondro-protective, and it supports a direct role for MMP in cartilage and bone damage and pannus formation in adjuvant- induced arthritis.
PMCID: PMC2192113  PMID: 7629505
24.  Osteoclasts are essential for TNF-α–mediated joint destruction 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2002;110(10):1419-1427.
The detailed cellular and molecular mechanisms leading to joint destruction in rheumatoid arthritis, a disease driven by proinflammatory cytokines, are still unknown. To address the question of whether osteoclasts play a pivotal role in this process, transgenic mice that express human TNF (hTNFtg) and that develop a severe and destructive arthritis were crossed with osteopetrotic, c-fos–deficient mice (c-fos–/–) completely lacking osteoclasts. The resulting mutant mice (c-fos–/–hTNFtg) developed a TNF-dependent arthritis in the absence of osteoclasts. All clinical features of arthritis, such as paw swelling and reduction of grip strength, progressed equally in both groups. Histological evaluation of joint sections revealed no difference in the extent of synovial inflammation, its cellular composition (except for the lack of osteoclasts), and the expression of matrix metalloprotein-ase-3 (MMP-3) and MMP-13. In addition, cartilage damage, proteoglycan loss, and MMP-3, -9, and -13 expression in chondrocytes were similar in hTNFtg and c-fos–/–hTNFtg mice. However, despite the presence of severe inflammatory changes, c-fos–/–hTNFtg mice were fully protected against bone destruction. These data reveal that TNF-dependent bone erosion is mediated by osteoclasts and that the absence of osteoclasts alters TNF-mediated arthritis from a destructive to a nondestructive arthritis. Therefore, in addition to the use of anti-inflammatory therapies, osteoclast inhibition could be beneficial for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.
PMCID: PMC151809  PMID: 12438440
25.  Cartilage Oligomeric Matrix Protein (COMP): A Biomarker of Arthritis 
Biomarker Insights  2009;4:33-44.
Arthritis is a chronic disease with a significant impact on the population. It damages the cartilage, synovium, and bone of the joints causing pain, impairment, and disability in patients. Current methods for diagnosis of and monitoring the disease are only able to detect clinical manifestations of arthritis late in the process. However, with the recent onset of successful treatments for rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, it becomes important to identify prognostic factors that can predict the evolution of arthritis. This is especially critical in the early phases of disease so that these treatments can be started as soon as possible to slow down progression of the disease. A valuable approach to monitor arthritis would be by measuring biological markers of cartilage degradation and repair to reflect variations in joint remodeling. One such potential biological marker of arthritis is cartilage oligomeric matrix protein (COMP). In various studies, COMP has shown promise as a diagnostic and prognostic indicator and as a marker of the disease severity and the effect of treatment. This review highlights the progress in the utilization of COMP as a biomarker of arthritis.
PMCID: PMC2716683  PMID: 19652761
cartilage oligomeric matrix protein; arthritis; biomarker

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