Objective: To examine the expression of the chemokine RANTES and its receptors in normal and osteoarthritic (OA) human cartilage and to analyze its effects on chondrocyte function.
Methods: The expression of RANTES and its receptors were examined by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and immunohistochemistry. The effect of RANTES on gene expression of other cytokines and on the release of mediators of cartilage degradation was also examined by PCR and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay.
Results: The expression of RANTES was undetectable in normal chondrocytes until after stimulation with interleukin-1beta (IL-1beta) or IL-18. Cultures of normal cartilage also produced RANTES in response to IL-1beta, as demonstrated by immunohistochemistry. All OA cartilage samples analyzed expressed RANTES messenger RNA (mRNA); RANTES protein was detected by immunohistochemistry in the superficial and mid zones of the tissue. OA chondrocytes produced elevated levels of RANTES constitutively and after IL-1beta stimulation. Normal cartilage expressed the RANTES receptors CCR3 and CCR5, but not CCR1. CCR1 was expressed in OA cartilage, and CCR3 and CCR5 were increased. In normal chondrocytes, RANTES induced the expression of inducible nitric oxide synthase and IL-6. RANTES stimulated the release of matrix metalloproteinase 1 in normal and OA chondrocytes as effectively as IL-1beta. Treatment of normal articular cartilage with RANTES increased the release of glycosaminoglycans and profoundly reduced the intensity of Safranin O staining.
Conclusion: Chondrocytes produce RANTES and express RANTES receptors. RANTES and CCR5 were markedly increased in OA and after in vitro treatment of normal chondrocytes with IL-1. Chondrocyte activation and cartilage degradation were identified as novel biologic and pathogenetic activities of this chemokine.