We investigated the involvement of polymorphonuclear granulocytes (PMN) and monocytes in cartilage degradation in immune complex-mediated arthritis (ICA). ICA induced with lysozyme-antilysozyme in the murine knee joint is characterized by a major influx of PMNs followed by monocytes and marked cartilage proteoglycan (PG) depletion develops within 2 days. Around 60% of 35S-prelabeled PG is lost at day 2. Influx of cells was manipulated using interleukin-1 (IL-1) receptor antagonist (IL-1ra) or antibodies to adhesion molecules. Cellular infiltrate was analyzed on hematoxylin-stained joint sections. Early systemic treatment with IL-1ra highly reduced PMN influx, whereas monocyte influx was hardly diminished. PG loss was not significantly reduced, declining from 62% in controls to 47% in IL-1ra-treated mice. Total blockade of cell influx was found after intravenous treatment with monoclonal antibodies 5C6 (anti-CD11b/CD18:anti-CR3) or NIMP.R14 (25-30 kDa protein mainly present on PMN) and PG loss was reduced to 5-10%. A similar reduction was observed after prior depletion of circulating PMNs with total body irradiation. Because amounts of IL-1 produced in leukopenic and control arthritic joints are comparable, this suggests that IL-1 is only marginally involved in PG loss in the first phase of ICA. This study indicates that monocytes rather than PMN might be involved in PG loss in this form of arthritis, either directly or by local activation of synovial layer cells of the joint.