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Symptoms in people with carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) are traditionally attributed to neural tissue, but recent studies suggest that the subsynovial connective tissue (SSCT) may also play a role in CTS. The SSCT undergoes fibrotic thickening which is generally described as "non-inflammatory" based on basic histology. This study uses immunohistochemistry to determine the presence of macrophages and T-cells within SSCT and their relationship with symptoms in people with CTS. SSCT was collected from twenty people with CTS and eight controls undergoing wrist fracture surgery. Immunohistochemical quantification of CD3+ T-cells and CD68+ macrophage densities as well as CD4+/CD8+ T-cell subpopulations were compared between groups using independent t-tests. Spearman correlations were used to identify associations between immune cell densities and CTS symptom scores. The density of CD3+ T-cells was significantly higher in SSCT of people with CTS compared to controls (CTS mean 26.7 (SD 13.7); controls 6.78 (6.3), p = 0.0005) while the density of CD68+ macrophages was lower (CTS mean 9.5 (SD 6.0); controls 17.7 (8.2), p = 0.0058). Neither CD68+ nor CD3+ cell densities correlated with symptom scores. In contrast to previous assumptions, our data show that the SSCT in the carpal tunnel in both people with CTS and controls is not devoid of immune cells. Whereas the higher density of CD68+ macrophages in control participants may be associated with their early recruitment after acute fracture, CD3+ cells within the SSCT may play a role in chronic CTS.

Original publication




Journal article


Plos one

Publication Date





Humans, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Synovial Membrane, Connective Tissue, Wrist, Wrist Injuries