Bone Loss in Rheumatoid Arthritis: Basic Mechanisms and Clinical Implications

Calcif Tissue Int. 2018 May;102(5):533-546. doi: 10.1007/s00223-017-0373-1. Epub 2017 Dec 4.


Patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) have historically developed progressive damage of articular bone and cartilage, which correlates with disability over time. In addition, these patients are prone to periarticular and systemic bone loss, carrying additional morbidity. In contrast to what is seen in many other rheumatic diseases, the impact of inflammation on bone in RA is uniquely destructive. Loss of articular bone (erosions) and periarticular bone (demineralization) is a result of excessive bone resorption and markedly limited bone formation. There has been tremendous progress in preventing net bone loss in RA with the advent of disease-modifying agents, including biologic agents and small molecules, that both limit inflammation and may have a direct impact on the prevention of cytokine- and antibody-driven osteoclastogenesis. However, repair of existing bone erosions, although feasible, is observed infrequently. Lack of repair is a consequence of suppression of osteoblast function and bone formation by some of the same mechanisms that promote osteoclastogenesis and bone resorption. As new agents are introduced to control inflammation in RA, and novel mechanisms to target synovitis are identified, it may be possible in the future to fully repair damaged bone.

Keywords: Erosions; Osteoblasts; Osteoclasts; Rheumatoid arthritis; Synovitis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / complications*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / immunology
  • Bone Diseases, Metabolic / drug therapy
  • Bone Resorption / complications*
  • Bone Resorption / immunology
  • Bone and Bones / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Osteoclasts / drug effects
  • Osteoclasts / immunology*
  • Osteogenesis / drug effects
  • Osteogenesis / immunology*