Objective: A new animal model was used to study the interaction between rheumatoid synovial cells and cartilage and to explore the cellular basis of rheumatoid joint destruction.
Methods: Fresh synovial tissue derived from patients with rheumatoid arthritis was implanted with normal human cartilage into SCID mice, either subcutaneously or under the renal capsule, for up to 304 days. The implants were analyzed by light and electron microscopy, as well as by immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization.
Results: Human synovial tissue and cartilage implanted in SCID mice are maintained by the animals for up to 304 days. After 35 days, focal erosions occur at the site of attachment of synovial lining cells to the cartilage. After 105 days, a pannus-like formation, consisting of proliferating synovial fibroblast-like cells invading the cartilage, is observed. The fibroblast nature of these cells was supported by observation of only focal expression of the macrophage markers CD14 and CD68. Cells at the immediate site of cartilage destruction express messenger RNA for cathepsin L, whereas cathepsin D messenger RNA was detected in subsynovial regions away from the site of destruction. The human origin of the tissue involved in cartilage destruction was demonstrated using monoclonal antibodies to HLA-ABC and human type IV collagen.
Conclusion: The present approach introduces a novel in vivo model of rheumatoid arthritis for the study of the molecular and cellular mechanisms of rheumatoid joint destruction at sites of synovial attachment to cartilage. In this model, the SCID mouse acts as a useful host for studying the properties of rheumatoid synovium in the absence of circulating human blood components.