The in vivo role of phagocytic synovial lining cells (SLC) was studied in acute experimental arthritis in the mouse. SLCs were selectively depleted by injecting liposomes encapsulating the drug dichloromethylene diphosphonate (CL2MDP, Clodronate). Optimal depletion of phagocytic lining cells occurred 7 days after CL2MDP liposome injection. Eliciting an immune complex-mediated arthritis in SLC-depleted knee joints largely prevented inflammation if compared to control arthritic knee joints. Joint swelling and influx of inflammatory cells into the joint cavity was markedly diminished. Cartilage damage, in this model related to influx of inflammatory cells, was significantly decreased. Reduced influx of inflammatory cells (mainly polymorphonuclear neutrophils) was correlated to a decreased production of chemotactic factors as measured in washouts of arthritic joints in a two-compartment Transwell system. Interleukin-1-driven chemotactic factors seem to be involved. Interleukin-1 levels were significantly lowered in SLC-depleted arthritic knee joints as compared to controls. Injection of recombinant murine interleukin-1 in SLC-depleted knee joints caused less influx of inflammatory cells as compared to injection into control knee joints. A specific damage of CL2MDP liposome treatment to synovial blood vessels was excluded as intraarticular injection of human recombinant C5a in lining-depleted knee joints showed similar influx of inflammatory cells if compared to human recombinant C5a injection in control knee joints. This study indicates that in immune complex-mediated arthritis, phagocytic lining cells regulate the onset of the inflammatory response.