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PURPOSE: Hypoxia and angiogenesis are now recognized as being important events in the perpetuation of joint destruction in rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In 50% of patients with RA, however, the disease also involves inflammation of the synovial tissue surrounding the tendons, which is associated with multiple ruptures and poor prognosis for long-term hand function. The aim of this study was to determine whether hypoxia and angiogenesis may also play a role in RA tendon disease. METHODS: Matched in vivo synovial oxygen measurements (invasive and encapsulating tenosynovium and joint synovium) were taken intraoperatively using a microelectrode technique in patients having elective hand surgery for RA. Patients having elective hand surgery for indications other than inflammatory synovitis were recruited as controls. In parallel, RA synovial tissue was harvested and stained for vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and hypoxia-inducible factor-2alpha. Tissue was also cultured under either hypoxic (1% O(2)) or normoxic (21% O(2)) conditions to investigate the effect of hypoxia on the expression of VEGF and its soluble receptor, as well as on the key cytokines interleukin (IL)-6, IL-8, IL-10 and the chemokine monocyte chemoattractant protein-1. RESULTS: Invasive tenosynovium was observed to be significantly more hypoxic than either noninvasive tenosynovium or joint synovium in the same patients. Furthermore, RA tenosynovium was shown to be more hypoxic than tenosynovium in patients without RA. This hypoxia was accompanied by expression of VEGF and hypoxia-inducible factor-2alpha. Using in vitro joint synovial cell cultures, upregulation of VEGF expression was shown to be a consequence of this in vivo hypoxia. Furthermore, hypoxia downregulated release of monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 and the immunoregulatory cytokine IL-10. CONCLUSIONS: These data demonstrate that hypoxia is a feature of rheumatoid tendon disease and differentially regulates angiogenesis and the inflammatory cascade in RA.

Original publication




Journal article


J hand surg am

Publication Date





49 - 58


Adult, Aged, Aged, 80 and over, Arthritis, Rheumatoid, Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors, Case-Control Studies, Cytokines, Female, Humans, Male, Middle Aged, Oxygen, Synovial Membrane, Tendinopathy, Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A