Objective: To find an "unlimited" source of antigenic material (aggrecan) for arthritis induction in BALB/c mice; to analyze the specificities of immune reactions to aggrecan and type II collagen in 2 arthritis-susceptible murine strains, BALB/c mice for proteoglycan (aggrecan)-induced arthritis and DBA/1j mice for collagen-induced arthritis; to compare the histopathologic features of arthritis induced by purified aggrecans or total extracts of osteoarthritic (OA) cartilage; and to determine arthritis susceptibility in various BALB/c colonies.
Methods: Aggrecans from total extracts of human fetal, normal adult, OA, and rheumatoid cartilage samples and from osteophytes were isolated, purified by gradient centrifugation, deglycosylated, characterized, and tested for arthritis induction. Purified type II collagen and salt-soluble collagens from OA cartilage were denatured, stromelysin treated, and used for immunization and arthritis induction in arthritis-susceptible (DBA/1j and BALB/c) murine strains.
Results: Chondrocytes from OA cartilage synthesize predominantly fetal-type aggrecan, which is the most efficient antigenic material for arthritis induction in BALB/c mice. The critical autoimmune/arthritogenic T cell epitopes of aggrecan are located in the G1 domain. Although most of the aggrecan molecules are heavily degraded and lost from OA cartilage, the G1 domain-containing fragments accumulate in OA cartilage. The amount of G1-containing fragments is approximately twice as much in OA than in normal adult articular cartilage, and the arthritogenic epitope(s) remains intact in G1-containing fragments retained in cartilage. Thus, total extracts of OA cartilage (without additional purification), if deglycosylated appropriately, can be used as arthritogenic material in BALB/c mice.
Conclusion: Predominantly G1 domain-containing fragments of aggrecan accumulate in OA cartilage, and these are the fragments which induce arthritis in BALB/c mice. Arthritis induction is highly specific for aggrecan epitopes and dictated by the genetic background of the BALB/c strain.