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J Rheumatol. 2012 Aug;39(8):1678-86. doi: 10.3899/jrheum.120370. Epub 2012 Jul 1.

RANK-RANKL-OPG in hemophilic arthropathy: from clinical and imaging diagnosis to histopathology.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy, Histology and Forensic Medicine, University of Florence, Florence, Italy.



Hemarthrosis triggers hemophilic arthropathy, involving the target joints. The histopathogenesis of blood-induced joint damage remains unclear. The triad of receptor activator of nuclear factor-κB (RANK), RANK ligand (RANKL), and osteoprotegerin (OPG; RANK-RANKL-OPG) controls bone turnover. Our aim was to evaluate RANK-RANKL-OPG expression in the synovium of hemophilic patients with severe arthropathy.


Synovial biopsies were obtained from 18 patients with hemophilic arthropathy and 16 with osteoarthritis (OA) who were undergoing total knee replacement and synovectomy. The severity of hemophilic arthropathy was evaluated according to ultrasonography score, the World Federation of Hemophilia (WFH) orthopedic joint scale, and the radiographic Pettersson score. RANK-RANKL-OPG expression was examined by immunohistochemistry and Western blotting. Serum levels of soluble RANKL (sRANKL) and OPG from an extended group of 67 patients with hemophilic arthropathy and 30 healthy controls were measured by ELISA.


The mean ultrasonography, WFH orthopedic joint scale, and Pettersson scores in patients with hemophilic arthropathy indicated severe arthropathy. A decreased expression of OPG was found in hemophilic arthropathy synovium compared with patients with OA. RANK and RANKL immunopositivity was strong in the lining and sublining layers in hemophilic arthropathy synovial tissue. Western blotting confirmed the immunohistological findings. Serum levels of sRANKL and OPG in patients with hemophilia were lower than in healthy controls.


In hemophilic arthropathy, the synovium highly expressed RANK and RANKL, whereas OPG immunopositivity decreased, suggesting an osteoclastic activation. Low tissue expression of OPG paralleled the serum levels of this protein and the severity of hemophilic arthropathy assessed by ultrasonography, Pettersson, and WFH orthopedic joint scale scores.

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