The dendritic cells of dissociated, adherent rheumatoid synovial cell cultures are recognised by their distinctive morphological features--compact cytoplasm around the nucleus and long, branched cytoplasmic extensions. Such cells usually composed approximately 10% of the total adherent cell population but could vary from as few as 2% to as many as 40% with different synovial specimens. Histological studies have shown the cells to contain many mitochondria and large, spherical cytoplasmic inclusions which often distort the dendritic extensions. Although lysosomes were observed, no evidence for phagocytic activity was obtained. Immunolocalisation studies by means of a monospecific antibody to human collagenase have shown that the dendritic cell attached to a collagenous substratum produces and releases this enzyme in vitro. In contrast collagenase was detected in only a few of the fibroblast- and macrophage-like cells, and it was always intracellular. It is proposed that the dendritic cell may have an important role in the pathophysiology of the rheumatoid joint, particularly with regard to collagenase-mediated cartilage destruction.
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