Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a common inflammatory disease of interphalangeal joints. The utilization of conventional imaging systems (e.g. x-rays) for non invasive diagnostics at an early stage of the disease is difficult, since pathologically induced changes do not occur at this stage in hard tissue. Use of MR and ultrasound methods are both methodically problematic and expensive. Therefore investigations for optical diagnostics using photon density waves (PDW) were carried out. The PDW was realized with an intensity modulated laser diode (825 nm, fmod: 110 MHz) and an ac- and phase detection in a 2D transillumination scanner. Measurements of optical properties of synovia and synovialis of healthy and early RA stages were performed and indicated a significant pathological increase of (mu) s. The detected PDW-pictures provided corresponding results. Further investigations regarding the object- variation of the modulation transfer function provide a sufficient spatial resolution in order to assign functional changes to anatomical structures. The results are presented using photos.© (1996) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.