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Arthritis Rheum. 2010 Mar;62(3):742-52. doi: 10.1002/art.27285.

Synovial fibroblasts self-direct multicellular lining architecture and synthetic function in three-dimensional organ culture.

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  • 1Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria.



To define the intrinsic capacity of fibroblast-like synoviocytes (FLS) to establish a 3-dimensional (3-D) complex synovial lining architecture characterized by the multicellular organization of the compacted synovial lining and the elaboration of synovial fluid constituents.


FLS were cultured in spherical extracellular matrix (ECM) micromasses for 3 weeks. The FLS micromass architecture was assessed histologically and compared with that of dermal fibroblast controls. Lubricin synthesis was measured via immunodetection. Basement membrane matrix and reticular fiber stains were performed to examine ECM organization. Primary human and mouse monocytes were prepared and cocultured with FLS in micromass to investigate cocompaction in the lining architecture. Cytokine stimuli were applied to determine the capacity for inflammatory architecture rearrangement.


FLS, but not dermal fibroblasts, spontaneously formed a compacted lining architecture over 3 weeks in the 3-D ECM micromass organ cultures. These lining cells produced lubricin. FLS rearranged their surrounding ECM into a complex architecture resembling the synovial lining and supported the survival and cocompaction of monocyte/macrophages in the neo-lining structure. Furthermore, when stimulated by cytokines, FLS lining structures displayed features of the hyperplastic rheumatoid arthritis synovial lining.


This 3-D micromass organ culture method demonstrates that many of the phenotypic characteristics of the normal and the hyperplastic synovial lining in vivo are intrinsic functions of FLS. Moreover, FLS promote survival and cocompaction of primary monocytes in a manner remarkably similar to that of synovial lining macrophages. These findings provide new insight into inherent functions of the FLS lineage and establish a powerful in vitro method for further investigation of this lineage.

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