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Are synovial biopsies of diagnostic value?

Barry Bresnihan

Author Affiliations

Department of Rheumatology, St Vincent's University Hospital, Dublin, Ireland

Arthritis Res Ther 2003, 5:271-278  doi:10.1186/ar1003

Published: 2 October 2003


Synovial tissue is readily accessible by closed needle or arthroscopic biopsy. These techniques provide adequate tissue for most diagnostic requirements. Examination of synovial tissue can assist in the diagnosis of some joint infections, and in several atypical or rare synovial disorders. Histological confirmation is not normally required for diagnosis of the common forms of inflammatory arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In patients with either established or early RA, immunohistological measures of inflammation in synovial tissue are associated with clinical measures of disease activity, may predict the clinical outcome, and change in response to treatment. Surrogate markers of disease activity and outcome that have been identified in synovial tissue include components of the cellular infiltrate, and several mediators of inflammation and matrix degradation. There is evidence that the very early introduction of disease-modifying therapy inhibits progressive structural damage maximally. Clinicians exploiting this 'window of opportunity' therefore require very early indicators of the diagnosis and outcome in patients who present with an undifferentiated inflammatory arthritis. Some immunohistological features have been described that distinguish patients who are likely to develop progressive RA and who might benefit most from early aggressive therapeutic intervention. In this regard, the inclusion of pharmacogenomic and proteomic techniques in the analysis of synovial tissue presents some exciting possibilities for future research.

synovial biopsy; diagnosis; early arthritis; rheumatoid arthritis; undifferentiated arthritis