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We previously proposed the hypothesis that the pro-inflammatory cytokine tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) plays a pivotal role in the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) based on our observations that it is the dominant inducer of interleukin-1 (IL-1) and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) production in RA synovial joint mononuclear (MNC) cells in culture. Since TNF-alpha acts via two membrane receptors, we have extended those studies to investigate the distribution of the p55 and p75 TNF receptors (TNF-R) in RA tissue. Surface receptor expression was quantitated by flow cytometry using monoclonal antibodies specific to the p55 (HTR-9) and the p75 (UTR-1) TNF-R. Both receptors were significantly increased on MNC isolated from the synovial membrane of RA patients compared to normal or RA peripheral blood MNC. Interestingly, the p75 TNF-R was increased both on large monocytic/macrophage-type cells and CD3+ lymphocytes. Furthermore, there was a significant increase in the proportion of CD3+ cells in RA synovial fluid expressing the p75 TNF-R, compared to matched peripheral blood MNC. In contrast to RA synovial MNC, p75 or p55 TNF-R expression was not significantly increased in osteoarthritis synovial MNC. In addition, Northern blot analysis indicated abundant expression of both p55 and p75 mRNA in RA synovial joint MNC. This was in contrast to normal peripheral blood MNC cells which contained little or no constitutive TNF-R mRNA; following stimulation with phytohemagglutinin and IL-2, a rapid and transient expression of both receptor mRNA was induced. These results, therefore, indicate that in RA synovial joint tissue there is up-regulation of both p55 and p75 TNF-R mRNA and surface protein expression, and with the presence of TNF-alpha in RA tissues, these results provide support to our hypothesis that TNF-alpha is of critical importance in the pathogenesis of RA.

Original publication




Journal article


Eur j immunol

Publication Date





1907 - 1912


Antigens, Differentiation, T-Lymphocyte, Arthritis, Rheumatoid, CD3 Complex, Humans, Interleukin-2, Leukocytes, Mononuclear, RNA, Messenger, Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, Receptors, Cell Surface, Receptors, Tumor Necrosis Factor, Synovial Fluid