Synovial hyperplasia is a hallmark of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and is regarded as a major destructive element of articular bone and cartilage. This pathological process is accompanied by the production of proinflammatory cytokines, prostaglandin E(2) (PGE(2)), and matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) in synoviocytes. We studied the spontaneous production of these substances in RA synoviocytes in spheroid culture. Synovial sarcoma cell line SW 982 formed a single spheroid in non-adherent culture plates. It produced interleukin (IL)-1beta, IL-6, IL-8, PGE(2), MMP-2 and MMP-13. Neither the addition of integrin antagonizing oligopeptide (GRGDSP) nor that of vitronectin receptor inhibitor SB-265123 to the culture inhibited any production. Phosphorylation of p38 mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase was observed during the culture. A novel p38 MAP kinase inhibitor, R-130823, inhibited the release of IL-6, IL-8 and MMP-13 in a concentration-dependent manner, but not that of IL-1beta or MMP-2. Real-time RT-PCR analysis demonstrated that IL-6, IL-8 and MMP-13 were inhibited at the transcriptional level. R-130823 did not affect the production of PGE(2) in spheroid culture, while the addition of R-130823 suppressed IL-1beta-induced PGE(2) synthesis in monolayer culture of SW 982 cells. The results suggest that spheroid culture induced proinflammatory factors and MMPs in signaling pathways both dependent and independent of p38 MAP kinase.