A synthetic triterpenoid, 2-cyano-3,12-dioxoolean-1,9-dien-28-oic acid (CDDO), has been reported to have anti-inflammatory properties and to decrease the interleukin-1 (IL-1)-induced expression of matrix metalloproteinase-1 (MMP-1) and MMP-13. We have shown previously that IL-1 induces expression of the inhibitor of NF-kappaB (IkappaB) family member Bcl-3, and that this contributes to MMP-1 expression. To quantify the effects of CDDO on IL-1-induced MMP-1, MMP-13 and Bcl-3 expression, we stimulated the chondrosarcoma cell line SW-1353 and human primary chondrocytes with IL-1, in the presence or absence of CDDO. Harvested RNA was subjected to quantitative real-time reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction. In SW-1353 cells, 300 nM CDDO significantly decreased the induction of MMP-1 and MMP-13 by IL-1. In human primary chondrocytes, 300 nM CDDO inhibited the induction of these genes by IL-1 to an even greater extent. In both cell types, inhibition of MMP-1 required 24 hours of pretreatment with CDDO, whereas MMP-13 could be inhibited when CDDO and IL-1 were added simultaneously to culture. In human primary chondrocytes, IL-1-induced Bcl-3 expression was inhibited when cells were pretreated with CDDO. To determine whether the inhibitory effect of CDDO on MMP worked through inhibition of Bcl-3 gene expression, SW-1353 cells stably transfected with a Bcl-3 expression plasmid were treated with IL-1 and/or CDDO, and MMP gene expression was assayed. Overexpression of Bcl-3 increased MMP-1, but not MMP-13, mRNA levels. Furthermore, overexpressed Bcl-3 could sustain the CDDO-dependent inhibition of IL-1-induced MMP-1 expression. Our data demonstrate that CDDO inhibits IL-1-induced MMP-1 and MMP-13 expression in human chondrocytes. CDDO also inhibits the expression of Bcl-3, an IL-1-responsive gene that preferentially contributes to MMP-1 gene expression.