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Synovial membrane

synovial membrane, synovial membrane function
The synovial membrane also known as synovium or stratum synoviale is a specialized connective tissue that lines the inner surface of capsules of synovial joints and tendon sheath1 It makes direct contact with the synovial fluid lubricant, which it is primarily responsible for maintaining2 In contact with the synovial fluid at the tissue surface are many rounded macrophage-like synovial cells type A and Fibroblast-like type B synovial cells Type A cells maintains the synovial fluid by removing wear-and-tear debris and type B cells produces hyaluronan among other extracellular components in the synovial fluid2


  • 1 Structure
    • 11 Synovial cells
  • 2 Mechanics
  • 3 Pathology
  • 4 Etymology and pronunciation
  • 5 See also
  • 6 References


The synovial membrane is variable but often has two layers

  • The outer layer, or subintima, can be of almost any type of connective tissue – fibrous dense collagenous type, adipose fatty; eg in intra-articular fat pads or areolar loose collagenous type
  • The inner layer in contact with synovial fluid, or intima, consists of a sheet of cells thinner than a piece of paper

Where the underlying subintima is loose, the intima sits on a pliable membrane, giving rise to the term synovial membrane

This membrane, together with the cells of the intima, provides something like an inner tube, sealing the synovial fluid from the surrounding tissue effectively stopping the joints from being squeezed dry when subject to impact, such as running

Just beneath the intima, most synovium has a dense net of fenestrated small blood vessels that provide nutrients not only for synovium but also for the avascular cartilage

In any one position, much of the cartilage is close enough to get nutrition directly from the synovium

Some areas of cartilage have to obtain nutrients indirectly and may do so either from diffusion through cartilage or possibly by 'stirring' of synovial fluid

The surface of synovium may be flat or may be covered with finger-like projections or villi, which, it is presumed, help to allow the soft tissue to change shape as the joint surfaces move one on another

The synovial fluid can be thought of as a specialised fluid form of synovial extracellular matrix rather than a secretion in the usual sense1 The fluid is transudative in nature which facilitates continuous exchange of oxygen, carbon dioxide and metabolites between blood and synovial fluid1 This is especially important since it is the major source of metabolic support for articular cartilage1 Under normal conditions synovial fluid contain <100/mL of leucocytes in which majority are monocytes1

Synovial cellsedit

The intimal cells are of two types, fibroblasts synovial cells or type B cells and macrophage-like synovial cells Surface cells have no basement membrane or junctional complexes denoting an epithelium despite superficial resemblance

  • The fibroblastic synovial cells derived from mesenchyme2 manufacture a long-chain sugar polymer called hyaluronan hence rich in endoplasmic reticulum; which makes the synovial fluid "ropy"-like egg-white, together with a molecule called lubricin, which lubricates the joint surfaces The water of synovial fluid is not secreted as such but is effectively trapped in the joint space by the hyaluronan
  • The macrophage-like synovial cells derived from monocytes in blood2 are responsible for the removal of undesirable substances from the synovial fluid hence are rich in Golgi apparatus It accounts for approximately 25% of cells lining the synovium
Synovial cell Resemble Prominent organelle Function
Type A Macrophage Mitochondria Phagocytosis
Type B Fibroblast Endoplasmic reticulum Secrete hyaluronic acid, & proteins complex mucin of synovial fluid


Although a biological joint can resemble a man-made joint in being a hinge or a ball and socket, the engineering problems that nature must solve are very different because the joint works within an almost completely solid structure, with no wheels or nuts and bolts

In general, the bearing surfaces of manmade joints interlock, as in a hinge This is rare for biological joints although the badger's jaw interlocks

More often the surfaces are held together by cord-like ligaments Virtually all the space between muscles, ligaments, bones, and cartilage is filled with pliable solid tissue The fluid-filled gap is at most only a twentieth of a millimetre thick This means that synovium has certain rather unexpected jobs to do These may include:

  1. Providing a plane of separation, or disconnection, between solid tissues so that movement can occur with minimum bending of solid components If this separation is lost, as in a 'frozen shoulder', the joint cannot move
  2. Providing a packing that can change shape in whatever way is needed to allow the bearing surfaces to move on each other
  3. Controlling the volume of fluid in the cavity so that it is just enough to allow the solid components to move over each other freely This volume is normally so small that the joint is under slight suction


Synovium can become irritated and thickened synovitis in conditions such as osteoarthritis,3 Ross River virus4 or rheumatoid arthritis5

In general, inflamed synovium is accompanied by extra macrophage recruitment as well as the existing type A cells, fibroblast proliferation and an influx of inflammatory cells including lymphocytes, monocytes and plasma cells6 When this happens, the synovium can interfere with the normal functioning of the joint Excessive thickened synovium, filled with cells and fibrotic collagenous tissue, can physically restrict joint movement The synovial fibroblasts may make smaller hyaluronan so it is a less effective lubricant of the cartilage surfaces Under stimulation from invading inflammatory cells, the synovial cells may also produce enzymes proteinases that can digest the cartilage extracellular matrix Fragments of extracellular matrix can then further irritate the synovium

Etymology and pronunciationedit

The word synovium is related to the word synovia in its sense meaning "synovial fluid" The latter was coined by Paracelsus7 More information is given at Synovial fluid § Etymology and pronunciation

See alsoedit

  • Synovial sheath


  1. ^ a b c d e FRCPA, Barbara Young BSc Med Sci PhD MB BChir MRCP; FRCPath, James S Lowe BMedSci BMBS DM; FRCPath, Alan Stevens MBBS; PhDMelbourne, John W Heath BScMelbourne; MBChBSheffield, Philip J Deakin BSc 2006-03-31 Wheater's Functional Histology: A Text and Colour Atlas, 5e 5 ed Churchill Livingstone ISBN 9780443068508 
  2. ^ a b c d Junqueira's Basic Histology: Text and Atlas, Thirteenth Edition 13 ed McGraw-Hill Education / Medical 2013-02-13 ISBN 9780071780339 
  3. ^ Man GS, Mologhianu G 2014 "Osteoarthritis pathogenesis - a complex process that involves the entire joint" J Med Life 7 1: 37–41 PMC 3956093  PMID 24653755 
  4. ^ Suhrbier A, La Linn M 2004 "Clinical and pathologic aspects of arthritis due to Ross River virus and other alphaviruses" Curr Opin Rheumatol 16 4: 374–9 PMID 15201600 doi:101097/01bor00001305377680826 
  5. ^ Townsend MJ 2014 "Molecular and cellular heterogeneity in the Rheumatoid Arthritis synovium: clinical correlates of synovitis" Best Pract Res Clin Rheumatol 28 4: 539–49 PMID 25481548 doi:101016/jberh201410024 
  6. ^ Wechalekar MD, Smith MD 2014 "Utility of arthroscopic guided synovial biopsy in understanding synovial tissue pathology in health and disease states" World J Orthop 5 5: 566–73 PMC 4133463  PMID 25405084 doi:105312/wjov5i5566 
  7. ^ Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 

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