Reliability of computerized image analysis for the evaluation of serial synovial biopsies in randomized controlled trials in rheumatoid arthritis

Arthritis Res Ther. 2005;7(4):R862-7. doi: 10.1186/ar1757. Epub 2005 May 12.


Analysis of biomarkers in synovial tissue is increasingly used in the evaluation of new targeted therapies for patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). This study determined the intrarater and inter-rater reliability of digital image analysis (DIA) of synovial biopsies from RA patients participating in clinical trials. Arthroscopic synovial biopsies were obtained before and after treatment from 19 RA patients participating in a randomized controlled trial with prednisolone. Immunohistochemistry was used to detect CD3+ T cells, CD38+ plasma cells and CD68+ macrophages. The mean change in positive cells per square millimetre for each marker was determined by different operators and at different times using DIA. Nonparametric tests were used to determine differences between observers and assessments, and to determine changes after treatment. The intraclass correlations (ICCs) were calculated to determine the intrarater and inter-rater reliability. Intrarater ICCs showed good reliability for measuring changes in T lymphocytes (R = 0.87), plasma cells (R = 0.62) and macrophages (R = 0.73). Analysis by Bland-Altman plots showed no systemic differences between measurements. The smallest detectable changes were calculated and their discriminatory power revealed good response in the prednisolone group compared with the placebo group. Similarly, inter-rater ICCs also revealed good reliability for measuring T lymphocytes (R = 0.68), plasma cells (R = 0.69) and macrophages (R = 0.72). All measurements identified the same cell types as changing significantly in the treated patients compared with the placebo group. The measurement of change in total positive cell numbers in synovial tissue can be determined reproducibly for various cell types by DIA in RA clinical trials.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Prednisolone / pharmacology
  • Prednisolone / therapeutic use
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / methods
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / statistics & numerical data*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Synovial Membrane / drug effects
  • Synovial Membrane / pathology*


  • Prednisolone