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OBJECTIVE: To compare total and intracellular oxidative activation of blood and synovial fluid (SF) neutrophils from patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other arthritides with blood donor neutrophils. METHODS: Peripheral blood and SF samples were obtained from 26 gonarthritis patients (13 RA, 13 non-RA) attending the rheumatology unit for therapeutic joint aspiration. Isolated neutrophils were stimulated by a formylated tripeptide (fMLF) or by microbeads coated with collagen-I. Formation of superoxide-anion-derived reactive oxygen species (ROS) was studied by luminol-enhanced chemiluminescence. Paired samples of blood and SF neutrophils from patients with active arthritis were compared with blood neutrophils from patients in remission and from 47 healthy blood donors. RESULTS: SF neutrophils from patients with RA, but not from non-RA patients, showed high baseline intracellular ROS production. Blood neutrophils from arthritis patients in remission existed in a primed state as revealed by more rapid oxidative response after collagen-bead challenge and a more pronounced response after fMLF stimulation compared to healthy blood donors. Blood neutrophils from RA patients with ongoing gonarthritis, however, did not differ from healthy blood donors concerning oxidative activation, whereas blood neutrophils from non-RA patients with gonarthritis showed a significantly lower peak ROS production. CONCLUSIONS: A novel finding with pathogenetic implications in our study is that SF neutrophils from patients with RA, but not other arthritides, are activated and produce ROS intracellularly. This implies that synovial neutrophils in RA are engaged in the processing of endocytosed material.