Objectives: To assess whether the histopathological features of the synovium before starting treatment with the TNFi certolizumab-pegol could predict clinical outcome and examine the modulation of histopathology by treatment. Methods: Thirty-seven RA patients fulfilling UK NICE guidelines for biologic therapy were enrolled at Barts Health NHS trust and underwent synovial sampling of an actively inflamed joint using ultrasound-guided needle biopsy before commencing certolizumab-pegol and after 12-weeks. At 12-weeks, patients were categorized as responders if they had a DAS28 fall >1.2. A minimum of 6 samples was collected for histological analysis. Based on H&E and immunohistochemistry (IHC) staining for CD3 (T cells), CD20 (B cells), CD138 (plasma cells), and CD68 (macrophages) patients were categorized into three distinct synovial pathotypes (lympho-myeloid, diffuse-myeloid, and pauci-immune). Results: At baseline, as per inclusion criteria, DAS28 mean was 6.4 ± 0.9. 94.6% of the synovial tissue was retrieved from the wrist or a metacarpophalangeal joint. Histological pathotypes were distributed as follows: 58% lympho-myeloid, 19.4% diffuse-myeloid, and 22.6% pauci-immune. Patients with a pauci-immune pathotype had lower levels of CRP but higher VAS fatigue compared to lympho- and diffuse-myeloid. Based on DAS28 fall >1.2, 67.6% of patients were deemed as responders and 32.4% as non-responders. However, by categorizing patients according to the baseline synovial pathotype, we demonstrated that a significantly higher number of patients with a lympho-myeloid and diffuse-myeloid pathotype in comparison with pauci-immune pathotype [83.3% (15/18), 83.3 % (5/6) vs. 28.6% (2/7), p = 0.022) achieved clinical response to certolizumab-pegol. Furthermore, we observed a significantly higher level of post-treatment tender joint count and VAS scores for pain, fatigue and global health in pauci-immune in comparison with lympho- and diffuse-myeloid patients but no differences in the number of swollen joints, ESR and CRP. Finally, we confirmed a significant fall in the number of CD68+ sublining macrophages post-treatment in responders and a correlation between the reduction in the CD20+ B-cells score and the improvement in the DAS28 at 12-weeks. Conclusions: The analysis of the synovial histopathology may be a helpful tool to identify among clinically indistinguishable patients those with lower probability of response to TNFα-blockade.
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