The synovium is the major target tissue of inflammatory arthritides such as rheumatoid arthritis. The study of synovial tissue has advanced considerably throughout the past few decades from arthroplasty and blind needle biopsy to the use of arthroscopic and ultrasonographic technologies that enable easier visualization and improve the reliability of synovial biopsies. Rapid progress has been made in using synovial tissue to study disease pathogenesis, to stratify patients, to discover biomarkers and novel targets, and to validate therapies, and this progress has been facilitated by increasingly diverse and sophisticated analytical and technological approaches. In this Review, we describe these approaches, and summarize how their use in synovial tissue research has improved our understanding of rheumatoid arthritis and identified candidate biomarkers that could be used in disease diagnosis and stratification, as well as in predicting disease course and treatment response.
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