The aim of this study was to purify, characterize, and study the regulation at the chondrocyte level of the guinea pig (gp) homologue of human (R) YKL40, a putative marker of arthritic disorders. Studying YKL40 in guinea pigs is of particular interest, as age-related osteoarthritis develops in this species spontaneously. Both N-terminal sequencing and total amino acid composition of gpYKL40 purified from the secretion medium of cultured articular chondrocytes indicate a high degree of identity with hYKL40. gpYKL40 was found to contain complex N-linked carbohydrate, as demonstrated by N-glycosidase F and endoglycosidase F digestion. Isoelectric focusing demonstrated the presence of a major band at pI 6.7. The secretion of gpYKL40 by confluent articular chondrocytes in the extracellular medium was studied by immunoblotting. gpYKL40 was released by chondrocytes continuously over a 7 day period and did not appear to be degraded by proteinases, as its signal intensity in cell-free medium at 37 degrees C did not decrease with time. Thus, gpYKL40 displays high stability and accumulates in extracellular medium without reaching a steady-state level. Among the main factors known to regulate cartilage metabolism, IL-1beta, TNF-alpha, bFGF, or 1,25(OH)2D3 did not alter the basal level of gpYKL40, and retinoic acid had a slight inhibitory effect; TGF-beta and IGF-I and -II dose-dependently and inversely modulated this basal level. TGF-beta at 5 ng/ml decreased extracellular gpYKL40 2.9-fold, whereas IGF-I and IGF-II at 50 ng/ml increased extracellular gpYKL40 3.6- and 3.4-fold, respectively. The present biochemical and biological findings give new insights for studying the function of YKL40 in cartilage.