The multifactorial role of neutrophils in rheumatoid arthritis

Nat Rev Rheumatol. 2014 Oct;10(10):593-601. doi: 10.1038/nrrheum.2014.80. Epub 2014 Jun 10.


Of all cells implicated in the pathology of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), neutrophils possess the greatest cytotoxic potential, owing to their ability to release degradative enzymes and reactive oxygen species. Neutrophils also contribute to the cytokine and chemokine cascades that accompany inflammation, and regulate immune responses via cell-cell interactions. Emerging evidence suggests that neutrophils also have a previously unrecognised role in autoimmune diseases: neutrophils can release neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs) containing chromatin associated with granule enzymes, which not only kill extracellular microorganisms but also provide a source of autoantigens. For example, citrullinated proteins that can act as neoepitopes in loss of immune tolerance are generated by peptidylarginine deiminases, which replace arginine with citrulline residues, within neutrophils. Indeed, antibodies to citrullinated proteins can be detected before the onset of symptoms in patients with RA, and are predictive of erosive disease. Neutrophils from patients with RA have an increased tendency to form NETs containing citrullinated proteins, and sera from such patients contain autoantibodies that recognize these proteins. Thus, in addition to their cytotoxic and immunoregulatory role in RA, neutrophils may be a source of the autoantigens that drive the autoimmune processes underlying this disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / physiopathology*
  • Autoantigens / immunology
  • Cytotoxins / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Extracellular Traps / physiology
  • Humans
  • Neutrophils / immunology
  • Neutrophils / metabolism
  • Neutrophils / physiology*
  • Neutrophils / ultrastructure
  • Phenotype


  • Autoantigens
  • Cytotoxins