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PLoS One. 2008;3(11):e3633. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0003633. Epub 2008 Nov 4.

Intra-articular fms-like tyrosine kinase 3 ligand expression is a driving force in induction and progression of arthritis.

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Department of Rheumatology and Inflammation Research, Göteborg University, Göteborg, Sweden.



One of the hallmarks of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is hyperplasia and inflammation of the synovial tissue being characterized by in situ occurrence of highly differentiated leukocytes. Fms-like tyrosine kinase 3 (Flt3) has a crucial role in hematopoiesis, regulation of cell proliferation, differentiation and apoptosis. Typically, Flt3 is expressed on early myeloid and lymphoid progenitors and is activated by its soluble ligand (Flt3-L). The highly differentiated cellular pattern in the synovium of the RA patients made us hypothesize that Flt3-L, with its ability to induce proliferation and differentiation, could be of importance in induction and/or progression of arthritis.


To investigate occurrence of Flt3-L in RA we have measured its levels in matched serum and synovial fluid samples from 130 patients and 107 controls. To analyse the pro-inflammatory role of Flt3-L, we continuously overexpressed this protein locally in healthy mouse joints using homologous B-cell line transfected with Flt3-L gene. Additionally, recombinant Flt3-L was instillated intra-articularly in combination with peptidoglycans, a Toll Like Receptor 2-ligand with stong arthritogenic properties. Our results show significantly higher levels of Flt3-L in the synovial fluid as compared to serum levels in RA subjects (p = 0.0001). In addition, RA synovial fluid levels of Flt-3-L were significantly higher than these obtained from synovial fluids originating from non-inflammatory joint diseases (p = 0.022). Intra-articular administration of B-cell line transfected with Flt3-L gene resulted in highly erosive arthritis while inoculation of the same B-cell line without hyperexpression of Flt3-L did not induce erosivity and only in a minority of cases caused synovial proliferation! Flt3-ligand potentiated peptidoglycan induced arthritis as compared to mice injected with peptidoglycan alone (p<0.05).


Our findings indicate that Flt3-L is strongly expressed at the site of inflammation in human RA. It exerts both pro-inflammatory and tissue destructive properties once in the joint cavity. Owing to these properties, treatment attempts to neutralize this molecule should be considered in RA.

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