Objectives: It has been suggested that CD44 is involved in the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). By alternative splicing, numerous CD44 isoforms can be generated which may play different roles the inflammatory process. We therefore studied the expression of various CD44 splicevariants in the circulation and synovial tissue of patients with RA and correlated expression with clinical features.
Methods: Expression of distinct CD44 splice variants was analysed by FACS in peripheral monocytes of 46 RA patients and 36 healthy controls. Expression of CD44 splice variants in synovial tissue of RA and OA patients was analysed by immunohistochemistry and the effects of blocking CD44v4 on RA-fibroblast like synoviocytes (FLS) were studied.
Results: On monocytes, the expression of CD44 and CD44v3 was significantly lower in patients with erosive disease than in those without radiographic progression (p<0.05 for CD44 and p<0.01 for CD44v3). CD44v6 on monocytes was significantly associated with the clinical disease activity index (r=0.34, p<0.05) and CRP-levels (r=0.37, p<0.02). Immunhistochemical analyses revealed that most variants were expressed to a significantly higher extent in RA than in OA synovial membranes. Particularly the variants CD44v4, CD44v6 and CD44v7-8 were highly expressed in the RA lining and also abundantly in the endothelium. Blocking CD44v4 in RA-FLS reduced the proliferation to 68±8% (p<0.02) when compared to control experiments and led to a reduction in IL-1ß mRNA expression (p<0.05).
Conclusions: Expression of CD44 splice variants is generally increased in the synovial lining of RA patients when compared to OA. The inverse association of CD44v3 expression on monocytes with the development of erosive disease and the functional impacts of CD44v4 blockade in RA-FLS suggests a pathogenetic role of this splice variants which needs to be further investigated.