IgG-containing immune complexes, which are found in most RA joints, communicate with hematopoietic cells using three classes of Fc receptors(Fc gamma RI, -II, -III). In a previous study we found that if a chronic T-cell-mediated antigen-induced arthritis (AIA) was elicited in knee joints of FcR gamma-chain-deficient mice that lack functional Fc gamma RI and Fc gamma RIII, joint inflammation was comparable but severe cartilage destruction was absent. We now examined the individual role of the stimulatory Fc gamma RI and Fc gamma RIII and inhibitory Fc gamma RII in inflammation and functional cartilage damage in knee joints with AIA using Fc gamma RI-, Fc gamma RII-, and Fc gamma RIII-deficient mice. Three weeks after immunization with the antigen-methylated bovine serum albumin (BSA), cellular (T-cell responses as measured by lymphocyte proliferation) immunity raised against mBSA was comparable in all groups examined. Humoral (total IgG, IgG1, IgG2a, and IgG2b levels) immunity against mBSA was comparable in Fc gamma RI-/- and Fc gamma RIII-/- but higher in Fc gamma RII-/- if compared to controls. Joint swelling as measured by (99m)Tc uptake at days 1, 3, and 7 was similar in Fc gamma RI-/- and Fc gamma RIII-/- mice and significantly higher in Fc gamma RII-/-. Chronic inflammation and cartilage damage (depletion of proteoglycans, metalloproteinase (MMP)-induced neoepitopes, and matrix erosion) was studied histologically in total knee joint sections stained with hematoxylin or safranin-O. Histologically, at day 7 after AIA induction, exudate and infiltrate in the knee joint was similar in Fc gamma RI-/- and Fc gamma RIII-/- and significantly higher (230% and 340%) in Fc gamma RII-/- mice if compared to controls. Aggrecan breakdown in cartilage caused by MMPs and, which is related to severe irreversible cartilage erosion, was further studied by immunolocalization of MMP-mediated neoepitopes (VDIPEN) and image analysis. MMP-induced neoepitopes determined in various cartilage layers (tibia and femur) were primarily inhibited in Fc gamma RI-/- (79 to 87% and 87 to 88%, respectively) and comparable in Fc gamma RIII-/-. VDIPEN neoepitopes were much higher (82 to 122% and 200 to 250%, respectively) in Fc gamma RII-/- mice. Initial depletion of proteoglycans was similar (60 to 100%) in all groups. In the chronic phase, cartilage matrix erosion in the lateral and medial tibia was significantly elevated in Fc gamma RII-/- (222% and 186%, respectively) but not in Fc gamma RI-/- or Fc gamma RIII-/- mice. These results suggest that during T-cell-mediated AIA, Fc gamma RI and Fc gamma RIII act in concert in acute and chronic inflammation whereas Fc gamma RI is the dominant FcR involved in severe cartilage destruction. Fc gamma RII is a crucial inhibiting factor in acute and chronic inflammation and cartilage erosion.