Although clinical outcomes for patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) have greatly improved with the use of biologic and conventional DMARDs, approximately 40% of patients do not achieve primary clinical outcomes in randomized trials, and only a small proportion achieve lasting remission. Over the past decade, studies in murine models point to the critical role of the lymphatic system in the pathogenesis and therapy of inflammatory-erosive arthritis, presumably by the removal of catabolic factors, cytokines and inflammatory cells from the inflamed synovium. Murine studies demonstrate that lymphatic drainage increases at the onset of inflammatory-erosive arthritis but, as inflammation progresses to a more chronic phase, lymphatic clearance declines and both structural and cellular changes are observed in the draining lymph node. Specifically, chronic damage to the lymphatic vessel from persistent inflammation results in loss of lymphatic vessel contraction followed by lymph node collapse, reduced lymphatic drainage, and ultimately severe synovitis and joint erosion. Notably, clinical pilot studies in patients with RA report lymph node changes following treatment, and thus draining lymphatic vessels and nodes could represent a potential biomarker of arthritis activity and response to therapy. Most importantly, targeting lymphatics represents an innovative strategy for therapeutic intervention for RA.
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