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OBJECTIVE: To define the relationship of synovial B cells to clinical phenotypes at different stages of disease evolution and drug exposure in rheumatoid arthritis (RA). METHODS: Synovial biopsy specimens and demographic and clinical data were collected from 2 RA cohorts (n = 329), one of patients with untreated early RA (n = 165) and one of patients with established RA with an inadequate response to tumor necrosis factor inhibitors (TNFi-IR; n = 164). Synovial tissue was subjected to hematoxylin and eosin and immunohistochemical staining and semiquantitative assessment for the degree of synovitis (on a scale of 0-9) and of CD20+ B cell infiltrate (on a scale of 0-4). B cell scores were validated by digital image analysis and B cell lineage-specific transcript analysis (RNA-Seq) in the early RA (n = 91) and TNFi-IR (n = 127) cohorts. Semiquantitative CD20 scores were used to classify patients as B cell rich (≥2) or B cell poor (<2). RESULTS: Semiquantitative B cell scores correlated with digital image analysis quantitative measurements and B cell lineage-specific transcripts. B cell-rich synovitis was present in 35% of patients in the early RA cohort and 47.7% of patients in the TNFi-IR cohort (P = 0.025). B cell-rich patients showed higher levels of disease activity and seropositivity for rheumatoid factor and anti-citrullinated protein antibody in early RA but not in established RA, while significantly higher histologic synovitis scores in B cell-rich patients were demonstrated in both cohorts. CONCLUSION: We describe a robust semiquantitative histologic B cell score that closely replicates the quantification of B cells by digital or molecular analyses. Our findings indicate an ongoing B cell-rich synovitis, which does not seem to be captured by standard clinimetric assessment, in a larger proportion of patients with established RA than early RA.

Original publication




Journal article


Arthritis rheumatol

Publication Date





714 - 725


Adult, Aged, Arthritis, Rheumatoid, B-Lymphocytes, Cohort Studies, Disease Progression, Female, Humans, Male, Middle Aged, Phenotype, Synovitis