Synovial needle biopsy specimens from the knee joints of seven patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) were examined immunohistochemically before and after six months' treatment with either gold or penicillamine (disease modifying drugs, DMDs). There were significant reductions in the numbers of infiltrating T lymphocytes and a disproportionate fall in the numbers of lymphocytes of the helper/inducer subset when compared with those of the suppressor/cytotoxic subset. This resulted in a fall in the ratio of helper/inducer to suppressor/cytotoxic cells. The immunohistological changes correlated with improvements in erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), serum immunoglobulins, visual analogue pain assessment, grip strength, and Ritchie articular index. A second group of nine patients with RA, already well established on DMD therapy, did not show similar changes after the six month period. The HLA class II antigens DR, DQ, and DP were widely expressed on lymphocytes, macrophages, and synovial lining cells of a group of patients with RA who had never received disease modifying drug therapy. After treatment there was a significant reduction in the expression of HLA-DP and DQ antigens.
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