Objective: CD146 (MUC18/MCAM/S-Endo) is a marker of tumor progression and metastasis formation in human melanoma. This molecule has also been identified in smooth muscle, endothelial cells, and activated T lymphocytes. We measured the synovial fluid levels of soluble CD146 in various human joint diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In addition, we studied the distribution of CD146 in normal and RA synovial tissues.
Methods: CD146 was isolated from MEL-OH melanoma cells and characterized by Coomassie blue staining and Western blotting. Soluble CD146 was measured by competitive enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay in synovial fluids of 3 healthy individuals and 7 cadavers (controls), as wells as in patients with traumatic joint injury (n = 10), osteoarthritis (OA; n = 10), psoriatic arthritis (PsA; n = 10), other non-RA polyarthritis (NRAP; n = 10), and RA (n = 31). Immunohistochemistry was performed on 3 normal and 3 RA synovial tissues. Flow cytometric, reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction, and Western blot analyses were performed on enzymatically separated RA synovial tissue cells.
Results: Compared with controls (mean +/- SD 10 +/- 2 ng/ml), significantly elevated synovial fluid levels of soluble CD146 were detected in patients with OA, PsA, and RA (17 +/- 7, 21 +/- 11, and 39 +/- 16 ng/ml, respectively; P < 0.02-0.001), but not in patients with traumatic joint injury or NRAP. Patients with early RA (<1 year after diagnosis) revealed the highest levels (51 +/- 15 ng/ml, n = 10; P < 0.001 versus controls). In RA, soluble CD146 correlated significantly with morning stiffness (P < 0.001), the number of tender joints (P < 0.02), and the number of swollen joints (P < 0.005), but not with the erythrocyte sedimentation rate (P = 0.07) or the C-reactive protein level (P = 0.57).
Conclusion: Since CD146 is expressed almost exclusively by vascular endothelium, high levels of soluble CD146 found in RA synovial fluid, particularly in patients with early disease, could reflect increased activity of endothelial cells and angiogenesis.