Transcriptional Profiling of Synovial Macrophages Using Minimally Invasive Ultrasound-Guided Synovial Biopsies in Rheumatoid Arthritis

Arthritis Rheumatol. 2018 Jun;70(6):841-854. doi: 10.1002/art.40453. Epub 2018 May 3.


Objective: Currently, there are no reliable biomarkers for predicting therapeutic response in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The synovium may unlock critical information for determining efficacy, since a reduction in the numbers of sublining synovial macrophages remains the most reproducible biomarker. Thus, a clinically actionable method for the collection of synovial tissue, which can be analyzed using high-throughput strategies, must become a reality. This study was undertaken to assess the feasibility of utilizing synovial biopsies as a precision medicine-based approach for patients with RA.

Methods: Rheumatologists at 6 US academic sites were trained in minimally invasive ultrasound-guided synovial tissue biopsy. Biopsy specimens obtained from patients with RA and synovial tissue from patients with osteoarthritis (OA) were subjected to histologic analysis, fluorescence-activated cell sorting, and RNA sequencing (RNA-seq). An optimized protocol for digesting synovial tissue was developed to generate high-quality RNA-seq libraries from isolated macrophage populations. Associations were determined between macrophage transcriptional profiles and clinical parameters in RA patients.

Results: Patients with RA reported minimal adverse effects in response to synovial biopsy. Comparable RNA quality was observed from synovial tissue and isolated macrophages between patients with RA and patients with OA. Whole tissue samples from patients with RA demonstrated a high degree of transcriptional heterogeneity. In contrast, the transcriptional profile of isolated RA synovial macrophages highlighted different subpopulations of patients and identified 6 novel transcriptional modules that were associated with disease activity and therapy.

Conclusion: Performance of synovial tissue biopsies by rheumatologists in the US is feasible and generates high-quality samples for research. Through the use of cutting-edge technologies to analyze synovial biopsy specimens in conjunction with corresponding clinical information, a precision medicine-based approach for patients with RA is attainable.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / genetics
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image-Guided Biopsy / methods
  • Macrophages / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Synovial Membrane / pathology*
  • Transcription, Genetic*
  • Ultrasonography / methods*