Degradation of type II collagen is thought to be a key step in the destruction of articular cartilage in patients with rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis. The aim of this study was to investigate whether type II collagen degradation is associated with cartilage destruction. Type II collagen degradation was studied in two murine arthritis models, zymosan-induced arthritis (ZIA), which develops reversible articular cartilage damage based on proteoglycan analysis, and antigen-induced arthritis (AIA), in which there is irreversible damage to the cartilage. Type II collagen degradation was assayed immunohistochemically using the COL2-3/4m antibody which recognizes denatured type II collagen, such as is produced by collagenase cleavage. In both models, degradation of type II collagen was observed in the non-calcified articular cartilage of arthritic but not of control knees. In the patella-femoral compartment, collagen denaturation started to increase on day 3 (ZIA) and day 7 (AIA) and remained high on day 14. In contrast, in the tibia-femoral compartment, type II collagen breakdown was not increased before 14 days in either model. By 28 days, collagen denaturation was strongly reduced in the patella-femoral compartment in the ZIA model, but persisted in the tibia-femoral compartment in both models. In conclusion, increased type II collagen degradation was found in articular cartilage of both ZIA and AIA animals. Since ZIA does not develop irreversible cartilage destruction, this indicates that cartilage may have the ability to withstand a limited degree of type II collagen degradation without developing irreversible damage.
Copyright 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.