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The mutational pattern of IgVH and IgVL genes from synovial tissue B cell hybridomas (n = 8) of patients (n = 4) with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) was analysed, which had been produced by the electrofusion technique without prior in vitro stimulation. The molecular data were correlated with immunohistopathological data and parameters of local disease activity. The IgVH genes of the B cell hybridomas belonged to the VH3 family (DP42; DP47, n = 2; DP53), the VH1 family (DP75), the VH4 family (DP71) and the VH5 family (DP73); 7/7 IgVH genes showed somatic mutations, the R/S ratio (CDR) was >3 in 4/7 IgVH genes and the mean R/S ratio of all IgVH genes was 9·3 (CDR) and 1·0 (FR), suggesting an antigen-dependent selection. The IgVL/λ genes belonged to the Vλ1 family (DPL2, DPL5, DPL8nf), the Vλ2 family (DPL11, n = 2) and to the Vλ6 family (IGLV6S1); 6/6 IgVL genes showed somatic mutations, the R/S ratio (CDR) was >3 in 3/6 IgVL genes and the mean R/S ratio of all IgVL was 3·0 (CDR) and 2·3 (FR), suggesting an antigen-dependent selection. The synovial tissue exhibited germinal centres in the follicles (3/4), with the unique distribution of Ki-M4+ follicular dendritic cells and Ki-67+ proliferating cells and a dominance of IgA+ plasma cells (3/3). All patients were positive for RF in serum and exhibited severe local symptoms (swelling 4/4; warmth 4/4; effusion 2/4), whereas the hybridomas were negative for RF. Since B cell hybridomas showed hypermutation and affinity selection for IgVH and IgVL/λ genes and the patients exhibited several local symptoms with germinal centres in synovial tissue, this study indicates that an antigen-driven process is behind the B cell expansion in the synovial tissue of clinically affected joints. These mutated B hybridomas were negative for RF, thus suggesting that antigens different from RF are also involved in the local B cell expansion and in the chronic synovitis of RA.