Synovial tissue macrophages (STMs) were principally recognized as having a pro-inflammatory role in rheumatoid arthritis (RA), serving as the main producers of pathogenic tumour necrosis factor (TNF). Recent advances in single-cell omics have facilitated the discovery of distinct STM populations, providing an atlas of discrete phenotypic clusters in the context of healthy and inflamed joints. Interrogation of the functions of distinct STM populations, via ex vivo and experimental mouse models, has re-defined our understanding of STM biology, opening up new opportunities to better understand the pathology of the arthritic joint. These works have identified STM subpopulations that form a protective lining barrier within the synovial membrane and actively participate in the remission of RA. We discuss how distinct functions of STM clusters shape the synovial tissue environment in health, during inflammation and in disease remission, as well as how an increased understanding of STM heterogeneity might aid the prediction of clinical outcomes and inform novel treatments for RA.
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