Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease characterized by a progressive loss of articular cartilage components, mainly proteoglycans (PGs), leading to destruction of the tissue. We investigate a therapeutic strategy based on stimulation of PG synthesis by gene transfer of the glycosaminoglycan (GAG)-synthesizing enzyme, beta1,3-glucuronosyltransferase-I (GlcAT-I) to promote cartilage repair. We previously reported that IL-1beta down-regulated the expression and activity of GlcAT-I in primary rat chondrocytes. Here, by using antisense oligonucleotides, we demonstrate that GlcAT-I inhibition impaired PG synthesis and deposition in articular cartilage explants, emphasizing the crucial role of this enzyme in PG anabolism. Thus, primary chondrocytes and cartilage explants were engineered by lipid-mediated gene delivery to efficiently overexpress a human GlcAT-I cDNA. Interestingly, GlcAT-I overexpression significantly enhanced GAG synthesis and deposition as evidenced by (35)S-sulfate incorporation, histology, estimation of GAG content, and fluorophore-assisted carbohydrate electrophoresis analysis. Metabolic labeling and Western blot analyses further suggested that GlcAT-I expression led to an increase in the abundance rather than in the length of GAG chains. Importantly, GlcAT-I delivery was able to overcome IL-1beta-induced PG depletion and maintain the anabolic activity of chondrocytes. Moreover, GlcAT-I also restored PG synthesis to a normal level in cartilage explants previously depleted from endogenous PGs by IL-1beta-treatment. In concert, our investigations strongly indicated that GlcAT-I was able to control and reverse articular cartilage defects in terms of PG anabolism and GAG content associated with IL-1beta. This study provides a basis for a gene therapy approach to promote cartilage repair in degenerative joint diseases.