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Ann Rheum Dis. 2005 Oct;64(10):1397-405. Epub 2005 Apr 13.

Outcome of intensive immunosuppression and autologous stem cell transplantation in patients with severe rheumatoid arthritis is associated with the composition of synovial T cell infiltration.

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  • 1Department of Rheumatology, Division of Nuclear Medicine, Leiden University Medical Centre, PO Box 9600, 2300 RC Leiden, The Netherlands.



To determine clinical and immunological correlates of high dose chemotherapy (HDC) + autologous stem cell transplantation (ASCT) in patients with severe rheumatoid arthritis (RA), refractory to conventional treatment.


Serial samples of peripheral blood and synovial tissue were obtained from seven patients with RA treated with HDC and autologous peripheral blood grafts enriched for CD34+ cells. Disease activity was assessed with the Disease Activity Score (DAS), serum concentrations of C reactive protein (CRP), and human immunoglobulin (HIg) scans, and the extent of immunoablation was determined by immunophenotyping of peripheral blood mononuclear cells, and immunohistochemistry and double immunofluorescence of synovium.


Clinical responders (n = 5) had a larger number of cells at baseline expressing CD3, CD4, CD27, CD45RA, CD45RB, and CD45RO in synovium (p < 0.05), higher activity on HIg scans (p = 0.08), and a trend towards higher concentrations of CRP in serum than non-responders (n = 2). Subsequent remissions and relapses in responders paralleled reduction and re-expression, respectively, of T cell markers. A relatively increased expression of CD45RB and CD45RO on synovial CD3+ T cells was seen after HDC + ASCT. No correlations were found between DAS and changes in B cells or macrophage infiltration or synoviocytes.


HDC + ASCT results in profound but incomplete immunoablation of both the memory and naïve T cell compartment, which is associated with longlasting clinical responses in most patients. The findings provide strong circumstantial evidence for a role of T cells in established RA, and demonstrate a role for the synovium in post-transplantation T cell reconstitution.

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