Monoclonal antibody (MAb) technology was used to examine aggrecan metabolites and the role of aggrecanases and matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) in proteolysis of the interglobular domain (IGD) and C-terminus of aggrecan. An in vitro model of progressive cartilage degradation characterized by early proteoglycan loss and late stage collagen catabolism was evaluated in conjunction with a broad-spectrum inhibitor of MMPs. We have for the first time demonstrated that IGD cleavage by MMPs occurs during this late stage cartilage degeneration, both as a primary event in association with glycosaminoglycan (GAG) release from the tissue and secondarily in trimming of aggrecanase-generated G1 metabolites. Additionally, we have shown that MMPs were responsible for C-terminal catabolism of aggrecan and generation of chondroitin sulfate (CS) deficient aggrecan monomers and that this aggrecan truncation occurred prior to detectable IGD cleavage by MMPs. The onset of this later stage MMP activity was also evident by the generation of MMP-specific link protein catabolites in this model culture system. Recombinant MMP-1, -3 and -13 were all capable of C-terminally truncating aggrecan with at least two cleavage sites N-terminal to the CS attachment domains of aggrecan. Through analysis of aggrecan metabolites in pathological synovial fluids from human, canine and equine sources, we have demonstrated the presence of aggrecan catabolites that appear to have resulted from similar C-terminal processing of aggrecan as that induced in our in vitro culture systems. Finally, by developing a new MAb recognizing a linear epitope in the IGD of aggrecan, we have identified two novel aggrecan metabolites generated by an as yet unidentified proteolytic event. Collectively, these results suggest that C-terminal processing of aggrecan by MMPs may contribute to the depletion of cartilage GAG that leads to loss of tissue function in aging and disease. Furthermore, analysis of aggrecan metabolites resulting from both C-terminal and IGD cleavage by MMPs may prove useful in monitoring different stages in the progression of cartilage degeneration.