Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) has been thought to be largely a T-cell-mediated disease. To evaluate the role of T-cell-independent pathways in RA, we examined the interaction between isolated RA synovial fibroblasts and normal human cartilage engrafted into SCID mice in the absence of T cells and other human cells. The expression of cartilage-de grading enzymes and adhesion molecules was examined by immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization techniques. The RA synovial fibroblasts invaded the cartilage and kept their transformed appearing cellular shape. They expressed VCAM-1 and produced the cathepsins L and B at the site of invasion. We conclude that RA synovial fibroblasts maintain their invasive and destructive behavior over longer periods of time in the absence of human T cells, indicating that T-cell-independent pathways play a significant role in rheumatoid joint destruction.