Recombinant human interleukin-1 alpha (IL-1 alpha) and recombinant human IL-1 beta stimulate matrix proteoglycan degradation and inhibit glycosaminoglycan synthesis in bovine nasal cartilage explants. A 17-kd human recombinant IL-1 receptor antagonist protein (IRAP) caused a concentration-dependent (0.2-200 ng/ml) suppression of the effects of IL-1 alpha and IL-1 beta in cartilage organ cultures. IRAP inhibited the binding of radiolabeled IL-1 alpha to rabbit articular chondrocytes. Matrix metalloproteinase (collagenase, gelatinase, and stromelysin) and prostanoid production by IL-1-activated rabbit articular chondrocytes was also suppressed by IRAP. These results could have potential significance in the development of a new antiarthritis therapy based on an IRAP.