Objective: To determine in vivo the extent of damage to, and changes in turnover of, articular cartilage type II collagen (CII) and the proteoglycan aggrecan following the onset of inflammatory arthritis in humans, and to examine the hypothesis that there are direct relationships between cartilage biomarkers of damage/turnover and clinical, histologic, and molecular markers of inflammation.
Methods: Synovial fluid (SF) and synovial membrane (SM) were obtained by arthroscopy, and a synovitis score was determined, in 32 patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) (13 with early untreated disease, 19 with established disease), 18 with psoriatic arthritis (PsA), and 10 with osteoarthritis (OA). Systemic disease activity markers were recorded, and SM CD3+ T cells, CD4+ T cells, CD68+ macrophages, and lining layer hyperplasia were quantified. SF levels of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFalpha), interleukin-10 (IL-10), matrix metalloproteinase 1 (MMP-1), MMP-3, Col2-3/4C(Long mono) neoepitope (C2C) (reflecting collagenase cleavage of cartilage CII), C-propeptide of type II procollagen (PIICP) (a biosynthesis marker), keratan sulfate (KS), and the 846 epitope of aggrecan (turnover) were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay or radioimmunoassay.
Results: Levels of cartilage degradation products in early RA or early PsA were not elevated above levels in OA, although in early inflammatory arthritis, TNFalpha and MMP-1 levels were similar to those observed in late inflammatory disease and higher than those in OA. PIICP was reduced in early RA. Correlations were observed between the SF C2C neoepitope level and the Health Assessment Questionnaire score, C-reactive protein level, plasma viscosity, synovitis score, and SF TNFalpha and MMP-1 levels. KS epitope content was reduced in direct relation to SM macrophage infiltration in the sublining and lining layers and in the presence of elevated SF MMP-3. Both SF MMP-1 and SF MMP-3 levels correlated with CD4+ T cell infiltration and lining layer hyperplasia in the SM, and MMP-1 levels correlated with lining layer CD68 levels, but TNFalpha and IL-10 levels did not.
Conclusion: Except for CII synthesis, there were no significant changes in extracellular matrix turnover of aggrecan or CII in the early stages of human inflammatory arthritis. However, the direct correlation between the increases in TNFalpha and MMP-1 production and collagen degradation suggests that collagenase cleavage of cartilage collagen is related to the activities of TNFalpha and MMP-1. The reduction in CII synthesis in early RA may contribute to the developing pathology, since a lack of synthesis of this molecule would inhibit maintenance of cartilage matrix.