A novel cationic immune-complex-mediated arthritis (ICA) model was developed in mice. The highly cationic protein lysozyme was coupled to poly-L-lysine (PLL) and injected intra-articularly into the knee joint of the mouse, shortly after systemic administration of specific antibodies. A vehement joint inflammation developed, characterized by severe joint swelling and the influx of predominantly polymorphonuclear (PMN) leukocyte. Unique properties were combined in this protein. First, an excellent retention of the antigen in joint structures was found, facilitating sufficient IC formation in the synovial tissue and at the cartilage surface. Secondly, PLL.lysozyme appeared to be a potent inducer of interleukin-1 (IL-1). Similar IL-1 production was measured at 6 hours, in both immune or nonimmune mice. Neutralization with antibodies against either IL-1 alpha or IL-1 beta revealed that IL-1 alpha was the dominant cytokine. Resident cells were responsible for this IL-1 production since a comparable IL-1 signal was measured after intra-articular injection of PLL.lys in neutropenic mice. We further investigated whether IL-1 and complement factors were involved in the onset of this ICA. Neutralizing the IL-1 production with antibodies directed against IL-1 alpha and beta showed a significant decrease in joint swelling. Complement depletion by cobra venom factor also prevented the onset of arthritis for the greater part. Only a minor swelling remained at 6 hours after eliciting arthritis, which was similar to the swelling after injecting the antigen alone and probably reflects IL-1 mediated inflammation. In this study, the authors show a synergistic action of IL-1 and complement in the onset of cationic ICA. Unique properties of the antigen such as excellent retention and its ability to induce IL-1 are combined within one molecule and make this antigen arthritogenic in the presence of antibodies and complement activation.