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OBJECTIVE: To determine the significance of bone edema, detected by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), in early-stage rheumatoid arthritis (RA). METHODS: We simultaneously examined serologic variables, MRI of wrist sites and finger joints of both hands, clinical disease activity score (DAS), and HLA-DR typing at entry in 80 patients with early-stage RA. RESULTS: The number of bones scored as positive for bone edema correlated with the number of sites scored as positive for MRI synovitis and MRI bone erosion, rate of enhancement (E-rate), and serum C-reactive protein (CRP), matrix metalloproteinase 3 (MMP-3), and interleukin 6 (IL-6). Findings for MRI synovitis and MRI bone erosion, E-rate, CRP, MMP-3, IL-6, seropositivity, and titer of anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide antibody (anti-CCP antibody), DAS28-CRP and HLA-DRB1*0405 allele carriership, were significantly higher in the positive versus the negative bone edema group. CONCLUSION: Bone edema based on our scoring system may reflect severe disease status in patients with early-stage RA. However, its clinical value at entry in prognostication of RA should be examined through prospective clinical followup studies.