Gout tophi are characterised by foreign body granulomas consisting of mono- and multinucleated macrophages surrounding deposits of monosodium urate microcrystals. After primary formation, granulomas grow associated with degradation of the extracellular matrix. Based on this background, we have sought (1) to investigate whether during granuloma's growth new macrophages are recruited into the tophi, (2) to find in situ evidence for macrophages' active role in matrix degradation and (3) to examine whether shrunk cells seen within gout tophi are apoptotic. Immunohistochemistry showed that perivascular localised mononuclear cells are CD68+, S100A8+, S100A9+, 25F9-, representing freshly migrated monocytes/macrophages. In contrast, almost all CD68+ mono- and multinucleated cells arranged within granulomas were S100A8-, S100A9-, 25F9+, representing mature (non-migrating) macrophages. Serial sections revealed that macrophages co-express tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha and matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) 2 and 9. In situ end-labelling of fragmented DNA demonstrated that CD68+ macrophages undergo apoptosis within gout tophi. Our data show that macrophages are continuously recruited into the gout tophi. These macrophages co-produce the proinflammatory cytokine TNF-alpha and two TNF-alpha inducible lytic enzymes, MMP-2 and MMP-9, suggesting that TNF-alpha may induce MMP production followed by matrix degradation within foreign body granulomas. In parallel, macrophages undergo apoptosis, a phenomenon that may restrict the destructive potential of inflammatory macrophages.