Objectives: Diffuse swelling of the distal interphalangeal (DIP) joint beyond the joint margin is a common feature of arthritis in psoriatic arthritis (PsA). The purpose of this study was to explore the microanatomical basis for the inflammation and nail disease in PsA using a combined high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and histological studies.
Methods: High-resolution MRIs of the DIP joint were obtained in 30 subjects [10 PsA, 10 osteoarthritis (OA) and 10 normal volunteers]. The relationship between the DIP joint capsule and associated tendon enthesis and the nail bed and root were evaluated. Histological studies to define the relationship between the normal cadaveric DIP joint capsule and the nail root were performed on the middle and ring fingers of 10 dissecting room cadavers.
Results: On MRI, the dorsal capsular enthesis was the epicentre of an inflammatory reaction. This extended to involve the soft tissues adjacent to the nail in 8 of 10 cases in PsA, but only 4 of 10 cases in OA where the inflammation is less intense and in none of the normal fingers. The DIP joint capsule was intimately linked with the nail complex on histology, with the dorsal, volar and lateral aspects of the nail bed being ensheathed in fibres extending from the entheses.
Conclusion: The study suggests that the extended nature of the enthesis organ associated with the DIP joint may explain the diffuse nature of the inflammatory response around the nail in PsA. Therefore the nail is as much an integral part of the enthesis organ as it is of the skin, which has implications for a better understanding of the disease.