Objective: Although osteoarthritis (OA) is considered a non-inflammatory condition, it is widely accepted that synovial inflammation is a feature of OA. However, the role of immune cells and their cytokines in OA is largely unknown. This narrative systematic review summarizes the knowledge of inflammatory properties, immune cells and their cytokines in synovial tissues (STs) of OA patients. Design: Broad literature search in different databases was performed which resulted in 100 articles. Results: Of 100 articles 33 solely investigated inflammation in OA ST with or without comparison with normal samples; the remaining primarily focussed on rheumatoid arthritis (RA) ST. Studies investigating different severity stages or cellular source of cytokines were sparse. OA ST displayed mild/moderate grade inflammation when investigated by means of haematoxylin and eosin (H&E) staining. Most frequently found cells types were macrophages. T cells and mast cells (MCs). Overall the number of c Conclusion: Inflammation is common in OA ST and characterized by immune cell infiltration and cytokine secretion. This inflammation seems quantitatively and qualitatively different from inflammation in RA. Further research is needed to clarify the role of inflammation, immune cells and their cytokines in the pathogenesis of OA. (C) 2012 Osteoarthritis Research Society International. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.