Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disease leading to joint destruction. Synovial fibroblasts are recognized as key cells in the pathogenesis of RA since they attract and activate immune cells and produce matrix degrading enzymes. Most notably synovial fibroblasts from patients with RA are stably activated and produce high levels of disease-promoting molecules without further stimulation by immune cells. Accumulating data suggest that epigenetic changes in stromal cell populations might be crucially involved in the pathology of RA and other chronic inflammatory diseases. In the current review, we discuss the mechanisms by which epigenetic changes might cause the stable activation of synovial fibroblasts in RA and how changes in the epigenome might alter immune function and inflammatory response and thereby promote the development of chronic diseases.
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