Rheumatoid Arthritis Morning Stiffness Is Associated With Synovial Fibrin and Neutrophils

Dana E. Orange, Nathalie E. Blachere, Edward F. DiCarlo, Serene Mirza, Tania Pannellini, Caroline S. Jiang, Mayu O. Frank, Salina Parveen, Mark P. Figgie, Ellen M. Gravallese, Vivian P. Bykerk, Ana Maria Orbai, Sarah L. Mackie, Susan M. Goodman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Morning stiffness is a hallmark symptom of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), but its etiology is poorly understood. This study was undertaken to determine whether any histologic features of synovium are associated with this symptom. Methods: Data on patient-reported morning stiffness duration and severity, and Disease Activity Score in 28 joints (DAS28) were collected from 176 patients with RA undergoing arthroplasty. Synovium was scored for 10 histopathologic features: synovial lining hyperplasia, lymphocytes, plasma cells, Russell bodies, binucleate plasma cells, fibrin, synovial giant cells, detritus, neutrophils, and mucin. Fibrinolysis of clots seeded with various cell types was measured in turbidimetric lysis assays. Results: Stiffness severity and morning stiffness duration were both significantly associated with DAS28 (P = 0.0001 and P = 0.001, respectively). None of the synovial features examined were associated with patient-reported stiffness severity. The presence of neutrophils and fibrin in RA synovial tissue were significantly associated (P < 0.0001) with patient-reported morning stiffness of ≥1 hour, such that 73% of patients with both synovial fibrin and neutrophils reported morning stiffness of ≥1 hour. Further, neutrophils and fibrin deposits colocalized along the synovial lining. In in vitro analyses, fibrin clots seeded with necrotic neutrophils were more resistant to fibrinolysis than those seeded with living neutrophils or no cells (P = 0.008). DNase I treatment of necrotic neutrophils abrogated the delay in fibrinolysis. Conclusion: In RA, prolonged morning stiffness may be related to impaired fibrinolysis of neutrophil-enmeshed fibrin deposits along the synovial membrane. Our findings also suggest that morning stiffness severity and duration may reflect distinct pathophysiologic phenomena.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)557-564
Number of pages8
JournalArthritis and Rheumatology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Rheumatology
  • Immunology


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