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1.  Synovial fibroblasts spread rheumatoid arthritis to unaffected joints 
Nature medicine  2009;15(12):1414-1420.
Active rheumatoid arthritis is characterized by originating from few but affecting subsequently the majority of joints. Thus far, the pathways of the progression of the disease are largely unknown. As rheumatoid arthritis synovial fibroblasts (RASFs) are key players in joint destruction and migrate in vitro, the current study evaluated the potential of RASFs to spread the disease in vivo. To simulate the primary joint of origin, healthy human cartilage was co-implanted subcutaneously into SCID mice together with RASFs. At the contralateral flank, healthy cartilage was implanted without cells. RASFs showed an active movement to the naïve cartilage via the vasculature independent of the site of application of RASFs into the SCID mouse, leading to a strong destruction of the target cartilage. These findings support the hypothesis that the characteristic clinical phenomenon of destructive arthritis spreading between joints is mediated, at least in part, by the transmigration of activated RASFs.
PMCID: PMC3678354  PMID: 19898488
3.  Cell culture and passaging alters gene expression pattern and proliferation rate in rheumatoid arthritis synovial fibroblasts 
Rheumatoid arthritis synovial fibroblasts (RASF) are key players in synovial pathophysiology and are therefore examined extensively in various experimental approaches. We evaluated, whether passaging during culture and freezing has effects on gene expression and cell proliferation.
RASF were passaged for up to 8 passages. RNA was isolated after each passage and cDNA arrays were performed to evaluate the RNA expression pattern during passaging. In addition, doubling time of the cells was also measured.
From passages 2-4, mRNA expression did not change significantly. Gene expression in RASF started to change in passages 5-6 with 7-10% differentially expressed genes. After passages 7-8, more than 10% of the genes were differentially expressed. The doubling rate was constant for up to 5 passages and decreased after passages 6-8. After freezing, gene expression of the second passage is comparable to gene expression prior to freezing.
The results of this study show, that experiments, which examine gene expression of RASF and shall reflect or imitate an in vivo situation, should be limited to early culture passages to avoid cell culture effects. It is not necessary to stop culturing SF after a few passages, but to keep the problems of cell culture in mind to avoid false positive results. Especially, when large-scale screening methods on mRNA level are used. Of note, freezing does not affect gene expression substantially.
PMCID: PMC2911867  PMID: 20462438
4.  Cells of the synovium in rheumatoid arthritis. Synovial fibroblasts 
For some time synovial fibroblasts have been regarded simply as innocent synovial cells, mainly responsible for synovial homeostasis. During the past decade, however, a body of evidence has accumulated illustrating that rheumatoid arthritis synovial fibroblasts (RASFs) are active drivers of joint destruction in rheumatoid arthritis. Details regarding the intracellular signalling cascades that result in long-term activation and synthesis of proinflammatory molecules and matrix-degrading enzymes by RASFs have been analyzed. Molecular, cellular and animal studies have identified various interactions with other synovial and inflammatory cells. This expanded knowledge of the distinct role played by RASFs in the pathophysiology of rheumatoid arthritis has moved these fascinating cells to the fore, and work to identify targeted therapies to inhibit their joint destructive potential is underway.
PMCID: PMC2246247  PMID: 18177509
5.  Angiogenic and angiostatic factors in systemic sclerosis: increased levels of vascular endothelial growth factor are a feature of the earliest disease stages and are associated with the absence of fingertip ulcers 
Arthritis Research  2002;4(6):R11.
To examine whether the lack of sufficient neoangiogenesis in systemic sclerosis (SSc) is caused by a decrease in angiogenic factors and/or an increase in angiostatic factors, the potent proangiogenic molecules vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and basic fibroblast growth factor, and the angiostatic factor endostatin were determined in patients with SSc and in healthy controls. Forty-three patients with established SSc and nine patients with pre-SSc were included in the study. Serum levels of VEGF, basic fibroblast growth factor and endostatin were measured by ELISA. Age-matched and sex-matched healthy volunteers were used as controls. Highly significant differences were found in serum levels of VEGF between SSc patients and healthy controls, whereas no differences could be detected for endostatin and basic fibroblast growth factor. Significantly higher levels of VEGF were detected in patients with Scl-70 autoantibodies and in patients with diffuse SSc. Patients with pre-SSc and short disease duration showed significant higher levels of VEGF than healthy controls, indicating that elevated serum levels of VEGF are a feature of the earliest disease stages. Patients without fingertip ulcers were found to have higher levels of VEGF than patients with fingertip ulcers. Levels of endostatin were associated with the presence of giant capillaries in nailfold capillaroscopy, but not with any other clinical parameter. The results show that the concentration of VEGF is already increased in the serum of SSc patients at the earliest stages of the disease. VEGF appears to be protective against ischemic manifestations when concentrations of VEGF exceed a certain threshold level.
PMCID: PMC153841  PMID: 12453314
basic fibroblast growth factor; endostatin; fingertip ulcers; systemic sclerosis; vascular endothelial growth factor
6.  Molecular profile of synovial fibroblasts in rheumatoid arthritis depends on the stage of proliferation 
Arthritis Research  2002;4(5):R8.
The aim of this study was to explore the molecular profile of proliferating rheumatoid arthritis synovial fibroblasts (RA-SF). Total RNA was extracted from two cultures of RA-SF (low-density [LD] proliferating cells and high-density [HD] nonproliferating cells) and suppression subtractive hybridization was performed to compare differential gene expression of these two cultures. Subtracted cDNA was subcloned, and nucleotide sequences were analyzed to identify each clone. Differential expression of distinct clones was confirmed by semiquantitative RT-PCR. The expression of certain genes in synovial tissues was examined by in situ hybridization. In both LD and HD cells, 44 clones were upregulated. Of the 88 total clones, 46 were identical to sequences that have previously been characterized. Twenty-nine clones were identical to cDNAs that have been identified, but with unknown functions so far, and 13 clones did not show any significant homology to sequences in GenBank (NCBI). Differential expression of distinct clones was confirmed by RT-PCR. In situ hybridization showed that certain genes, such as S100A4, NFAT5, unr and Fbx3, were also expressed predominantly in synovial tissues from patients with RA but not from normal individuals. The expression of distinct genes in proliferating RA-SF could also be found in RA synovium, suggesting that these molecules are involved in synovial activation in RA. Most importantly, the data indicate that the expression of certain genes in RA-SF depends on the stage of proliferation; therefore, the stage needs to be considered in any analysis of differential gene expression in SF.
PMCID: PMC125298  PMID: 12223111
differential gene expression; molecular profile; proliferation; rheumatoid arthritis; synovial fibroblasts
7.  Ex vivo gene transfer in the years to come 
Arthritis Research  2001;4(1):10-12.
Synovial fibroblasts (SFs) have become a major target for ex vivo gene transfer in rheumatoid arthritis (RA), but efficient transduction of RA-SFs still is a major problem. The low proliferation rate and heterogeneity of RA-SFs, together with their lack of highly specific surface receptors, have hampered a more extensive application of this technique. Improving transduction protocols with conventional viral vectors, therefore, as well as developing novel strategies, such as alternative target cells, and novel delivery systems constitute a major challenge. Recent progress in this field will lead to the achievement of high transgene expression, and will facilitate the use of gene transfer in human trials.
PMCID: PMC128912  PMID: 11879532
ex vivo approach; gene therapy; rheumatoid arthritis; viral vector
8.  Fibroblast biology: Role of synovial fibroblasts in the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis 
Arthritis Research  2000;2(5):361-367.
There is growing evidence that activated synovial fibroblasts, as part of a complex cellular network, play an important role in the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis. In recent years, significant progress has been made in elucidating the specific features of these fibroblasts. It has been understood that although macrophage and lymphocyte secreted factors contribute to their activation, rheumatoid arthritis synovial fibroblasts (RA-SFs) do not merely respond to stimulation by pro-inflammatory cytokines, but show a complex pattern of molecular changes also maintained in the absence of external stimulation. This pattern of activation is characterized by alterations in the expression of regulatory genes and signaling cascades, as well as changes in pathways leading to apoptosis. These together result in the upregulation of adhesion molecules that mediate the attachment of RA-SFs to the extracellular matrix and in the overexpression of matrix degrading enzymes that mediate the progressive destruction of the joints. In addition, activated RA-SFs exert specific effects on other cell types such as macrophages and lymphocytes. While the initiating step in the activation of RA-SFs remains elusive, several key pathways of RA-SF activation have been identified. However, there is so far no single, specific marker for this phenotype of RA-SF. It appears that activated RA-SFs are characterized by a set of specific properties which together lead to their aggressive behavior.
PMCID: PMC130137  PMID: 11094449
fibroblasts; rheumatoid arthritis
9.  Kinesin-like protein CENP-E is upregulated in rheumatoid synovial fibroblasts 
Arthritis Research  1999;1(1):71-80.
Our aim was to identify specifically expressed genes using RNA arbitrarily primed (RAP)-polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for differential display in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In RA, amplification of a distinct PCR product suitable for sequencing could be observed. Sequence analysis identified the PCR product as highly homologous to a 434 base pair segment of the human centromere kinesin-like protein CENP-E. Differential expression of CENP-E was confirmed by quantitative reverse transcription PCR, immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization. CENP-E expression was independent from prednisolone and could not be completely inhibited by serum starvation. RAP-PCR is a suitable method to identify differentially expressed genes in rheumatoid synovial fibroblasts. Also, because motifs of CENP-E show homologies to jun and fos oncogene products and are involved in virus assembly, CENP-E may be involved in the pathophysiology of RA.
Articular destruction by invading synovial fibroblasts is a typical feature in rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Recent data support the hypothesis that key players in this scenario are transformed-appearing synovial fibroblasts at the site of invasion into articular cartilage and bone. They maintain their aggressive phenotype toward cartilage, even when first cultured and thereafter coimplanted together with normal human cartilage into severe combined immunodeficient mice for an extended period of time. However, little is known about the upregulation of genes that leads to this aggressive fibroblast phenotype. To inhibit this progressive growth without interfering with pathways of physiological matrix remodelling, identification of pathways that operate specifically in RA synovial fibroblasts is required. In order to achieve this goal, identification of genes showing upregulation restricted to RA synovial fibroblasts is essential.
To identify specifically expressed genes using RNA arbitrarily primed (RAP)-polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for differential display in patients with RA.
RNA was extracted from cultured synovial fibroblasts from 10 patients with RA, four patients with osteoarthritis (OA), and one patient with psoriatic arthritis. RAP-PCR was performed using different arbitrary primers for first-strand and second-strand synthesis. First-strand and second-strand synthesis were performed using arbitrary primers: US6 (5' -GTGGTGACAG-3') for first strand, and Nuclear 1+ (5' -ACGAAGAAGAG-3'), OPN28 (5' -GCACCAGGGG-3'), Kinase A2+ (5' -GGTGCCTTTGG-3')and OPN24 (5' -AGGGGCACCA-3') for second-strand synthesis. PCR reactions were loaded onto 8 mol/l urea/6% polyacrylamide-sequencing gels and electrophoresed.Gel slices carrying the target fragment were then excised with a razor blade, eluated and reamplified. After verifying their correct size and purity on 4% agarose gels, the reamplified products derived from the single-strand confirmation polymorphism gel were cloned, and five clones per transcript were sequenced. Thereafter, a GenBank® analysis was performed. Quantitative reverse transcription PCR of the segments was performed using the PCR MIMIC® technique.In-situ expression of centromere kinesin-like protein-E (CENP-E) messenger (m)RNA in RA synovium was assessed using digoxigenin-labelled riboprobes, and CENP-E protein expression in fibroblasts and synovium was performed by immunogold-silver immunohistochemistry and cytochemistry. Functional analysis of CENP-E was done using different approaches (eg glucocorticoid stimulation, serum starvation and growth rate analysis of synovial fibroblasts that expressed CENP-E).
In RA, amplification of a distinct PCR product suitable for sequencing could be observed. The indicated complementary DNA fragment of 434 base pairs from RA mRNA corresponded to nucleotides 6615-7048 in the human centromere kinesin-like protein CENP-E mRNA (GenBank® accession No. emb/Z15005).The isolated sequence shared greater than 99% nucleic acid (P = 2.9e-169) identity with the human centromere kinesin-like protein CENP-E. Two base changes at positions 6624 (A to C) and 6739 (A to G) did not result in alteration in the amino acid sequence, and therefore 100% amino acid identity could be confirmed. The amplification of 10 clones of the cloned RAP product revealed the presence of CENP-E mRNA in every fibroblast culture examined, showing from 50% (271.000 ± 54.000 phosphor imager arbitrary units) up to fivefold (961.000 ± 145.000 phosphor imager arbitrary units) upregulation when compared with OA fibroblasts. Neither therapy with disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs such as methotrexate, gold, resochine or cyclosporine A, nor therapy with oral steroids influenced CENP-E expression in the RA fibroblasts. Of the eight RA fibroblast populations from RA patients who were receiving disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, five showed CENP-E upregulation; and of the eight fibroblast populations from RA patients receiving steroids, four showed CENP-E upregulation.
Numerous synovial cells of the patients with RA showed a positive in situ signal for the isolated CENP-E gene segment, confirming CENP-E mRNA production in rheumatoid synovium, whereas in OA synovial tissue CENP-E mRNA could not be detected. In addition, CENP-E expression was independent from medication. This was further confirmed by analysis of the effect of prednisolone on CENP-E expression, which revealed no alteration in CENP-E mRNA after exposure to different (physiological) concentrations of prednisolone. Serum starvation also could not suppress CENP-E mRNA completely.
Since its introduction in 1992, numerous variants of the differential display method and continuous improvements including RAP-PCR have proved to have both efficiency and reliability in examination of differentially regulated genes. The results of the present study reveal that RAP-PCR is a suitable method to identify differentially expressed genes in rheumatoid synovial fibroblasts.
The mRNA, which has been found to be upregulated in rheumatoid synovial fibroblasts, codes for a kinesin-like motor protein named CENP-E, which was first characterized in 1991. It is a member of a family of centromere-associated proteins, of which six (CENP-A to CENP-F) are currently known. CENP-E itself is a kinetochore motor, which accumulates transiently at kinetochores in the G2 phase of the cell cycle before mitosis takes place, appears to modulate chromosome movement and spindle elongation,and is degraded at the end of mitosis. The presence or upregulation of CENP-E has never been associated with RA.
The three-dimensional structure of CENP-E includes a coiled-coil domain. This has important functions and shows links to known pathways in RA pathophysiology. Coiled-coil domains can also be found in jun and fos oncogene products, which are frequently upregulated in RA synovial fibroblasts. They are also involved in DNA binding and transactivation processes resembling the situation in AP-1 (Jun/Fos)-dependent DNA-binding in rheumatoid synovium. Most interestingly, these coiled-coil motifs are crucial for the assembly of viral proteins, and the upregulation of CENP-E might reflect the influence of infectious agents in RA synovium. We also performed experiments showing that serum starvation decreased, but did not completely inhibit CENP-E mRNA expression. This shows that CENP-E is related to, but does not completely depend on proliferation of these cells. In addition, we determined the growth rate of CENP-E high and low expressors, showing that it was independent from the amount of CENP-E expression. supporting the statement that upregulation of CENP-E reflects an activated RA fibroblast phenotype. In summary, the results of the present study support the hypothesis that CENP-E, presumably independently from medication, may not only be upregulated, but may also be involved in RA pathophysiology.
PMCID: PMC17776  PMID: 11056662
arthritis; centromere; differential display; immunohistochemistry; in situ hybridization; RNA fingerprinting

Results 1-10 (10)