The cellular composition of lymph nodes in the earliest phase of inflammatory arthritis

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Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an immune-mediated inflammatory disease of unknown aetiology. Recent work has shown that systemic autoimmunity precedes synovial inflammation, and animal models have suggested that changes in the lymph nodes may precede those in the synovial tissue. Therefore, we investigated the cellular composition of the lymph node in the earliest phases of inflammatory arthritis.


Thirteen individuals positive for immunoglobulin M (IgM) rheumatoid factor and/or anticitrullinated protein antibodies without arthritis were included. Additionally, we studied 14 early arthritis patients (arthritis duration ≤6 months, naïve for disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs), and eight healthy controls. All subjects underwent ultrasound-guided inguinal lymph node biopsy. Different T- and B-lymphocyte subsets were analysed by multicolour flow cytometry.


There was an increase in activated CD69 CD8 T cells and CD19 B cells in early arthritis patients compared with healthy controls. We also observed a trend towards increased CD19 B cells in autoantibody-positive individuals without arthritis compared with healthy controls.


This exploratory study suggests that there is increased immune cell activation within lymph nodes of early arthritis patients as well as in autoantibody-positive individuals at risk of developing RA. This method provides a unique tool to investigate immunological changes in the lymph node compartment in the earliest phases of inflammatory arthritis.

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