OBJECTIVE: To investigate the effects of TNF blocking therapy on synovial immune activity in rat adjuvant arthritis (AA) by measuring mRNA expression of key macrophage and T cell cytokines during PEG sTNF-RI treatment (10mg/kg) on days 8, 10 and 12. METHODS: Paw volume was assessed every 3-4 days. Ankles were removed for quantitative radiology and histology and synovial membrane removed to determine cytokine mRNA expression using semi-quantitative RT-PCR. T cells in joints were quantified by immunohistochemistry. RESULTS: Paw volume was significantly decreased in rats treated with PEG STNF-RI from days 12 to 17. Histology scores and synovial T cell numbers were reduced on days 13 and 17 and radiology scores significantly reduced on day 13. Expression of synovial TNF, IFN-gamma, IL-17, IL-2 and IL-4 mRNA was unchanged in treated rats and TGF-beta expression was significantly increased at day 13. CONCLUSIONS: PEG sTNF-RI attenuates AA and disease recurs after treatment ceases, similar to human rheumatoid arthritis. Continued TNF production and/or ongoing T cell activity, may explain the recrudescence of disease once treatment is stopped.