Cartilage-pannus junctions of the rheumatoid lesion have been examined by histochemical and ultrastructural techniques in an attempt to identify the cells responsible for cartilage degradation. Mast cells have been identified at sites of cartilage erosion in 3 specimens of rheumatoid joint. It is known that mast cells participate in immunological reactions, produce the vasoactive and proteinase-modulating agents histamine and heparin as well as their own degradative proteinases. The close association of mast cells with sites of cartilage erosion suggests they may play an important role in the pathophysiology of joint destruction in rheumatoid arthritis.
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