Organ cultures and primary cell cultures were established from synovial tissue collected from patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Hyaluronic acid measured by the incorporation of [3H]glucosamine into the polysaccharide was found to be synthesised in the cultures immediately after transfer from in-vivo to in-vitro conditions. This was in contrast to the primary cultures established from cells isolated from normal joints. The latter cells did not synthesise any detectable hyaluronate. 90-100% of the cells in primary culture were found to be esterase positive, indicating their macrophage nature. The molecular weight of the hyaluronate produced by the pathological cells was low (approximately 50 000) compared with the molecular weight of hyaluronate found in joint fluid from normal or rheumatoid joints. Cell lines of fibroblasts established from rheumatoid joints and studied after four or seven passages also produced hyaluronate of low molecular weight. It is known that similar cell lines from normal joints produce a high molecular weight polymer.
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