Flow-cytometry studies of DNA and RNA content were carried out in acridine orange-stained synovial fluid lymphocytes from 11 patients presenting with classical or definite rheumatoid arthritis. Monoclonal antibodies were used to detect specific T cell surface antigens (OKT3, OKT4, OKT8) and antigens associated with lymphocyte activation (OKIa 1, OKT10). T3 positive cell percentages were comparable to those of normal blood, although T4/T8 ratios were decreased in 4 out of 5 cases, and HLA-DR positive cells increased. Six out of 11 patients showed percentages of dividing cells varying from 2.2 to 7.2% as compared with less than 1% in the other patients and in normal blood. Nondividing cells were characterised by an increase in their RNA content compared with normal blood. A greater increase of RNA content was observed in patients with lower percentages of dividing cells, suggesting a G1/S block. Changes in cellular DNA and/or RNA contents provide a valuable parameter of lymphocyte activation, not necessarily linked to the expression of differentiation antigens by activated cells.
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