Increased serum levels of hyaluronate (HA) have been found in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). This probably reflects increased leakage of HA from the inflamed joints into the circulation. In a prospective study of 40 patients with early RA, we evaluated the relationship of serum HA to clinical, laboratory, and radiologic parameters of disease activity. The patients were followed for 12 months; all had active disease at study entry. We confirmed the previous finding of higher serum HA concentrations in RA patients compared with healthy controls. At study entry, the patients' serum HA levels correlated positively with clinical and laboratory parameters of acute inflammation. Despite marked clinical improvement during therapy with second-line drugs, the serum HA levels increased during the followup period. At the end of 1 year, these levels correlated with the radiologic progression of joint lesions, whereas they showed a less pronounced correlation with clinical or laboratory parameters of inflammation. We conclude that, in early RA, serum HA levels may reflect ongoing joint destruction and may even predict subsequent joint damage.