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Detection, identification and in vivo treatment responsiveness of bone morphogenetic protein (BMP)-activated cell populations in the synovium of patients with rheumatoid arthritis

Abstract

Objective: To characterise the bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) target cells positive for phosphorylated (P)-SMAD1/5, in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) synovium.

Methods: Synovial biopsies were obtained by needle arthroscopy. Anti-P-SMAD1/5 antibodies were used for Western blot (WB) on protein extracts from RA and normal synovium and for immunostaining of synovial biopsy sections. Positive cells were further identified by double staining for CD3, CD20, CD68, CD138, CD90, α smooth muscle actin (SMA), endoglin (CD105) and von Willebrand factor (VWF). In sections from early patients with RA taken before and under antirheumatic treatment, the degree of inflammation and activation of the BMP pathway were quantified.

Results: P-SMAD1/5 protein was detected by WB in RA and to a lesser extent in normal synovium. Different P-SMAD1/5 positive cell populations were identified in RA synovium, mainly in perivascular and sublining cells. P-SMAD1/5 positive perivascular cells were αSMA positive and located around VWF positive endothelial cells. Some CD90 positive synovial fibroblasts were P-SMAD1/5 positive, as was part of the CD68 positive synovial cells but other cells of the haematopoietic lineage showed no SMAD1/5 phosphorylation. Treatment resulted in an absolute but not relative decrease in BMP activation in the synovium.

Conclusion: BMP-activated cells belong to distinct stromal compartments in RA synovium and some of them express markers associated with the mesenchymal progenitor cell lineage. Antirheumatic treatment effectively downregulates synovial inflammation, but BMP activation in the synovium does persist albeit reduced.

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