Crucial role of macrophages in matrix metalloproteinase–mediated cartilage destruction during experimental osteoarthritis : Involvement of matrix metalloproteinase 3




To explore the involvement of synovial macrophages in early cartilage damage in osteoarthritis (OA), and to identify the role of matrix metalloproteinase 3 (MMP-3) in the pathology of early and late OA.


The role of synovial macrophages in MMP-mediated damage in OA was studied by depleting synovial macrophages prior to elicitation of a collagenase-induced instability model of OA. The expression of MMP in synovium and cartilage was monitored using TaqMan analysis. In spontaneous and induced OA, cartilage pathology was scored in MMP-3–knockout mice and control mice, by histologic assessment and VDIPEN staining.


On day 14 following induction of OA, MMP-mediated neoepitopes were detected in cartilage from mice with mild experimental OA (mean ± SD positively stained surface area 20 ± 3.2%). Remarkably, by depleting synovial macrophages prior to induction of OA, the generation of MMP-induced neoepitopes was largely prevented (mean ± SD positively stained surface area 5 ± 1%; P< 0.001), indicating an important role for synovial macrophages in the occurrence of MMP-mediated cartilage damage. We observed a strong decrease in MMP-3 and MMP-9 expression in synovial but not cartilage tissue in macrophage-depleted joints. Among 2-year-old mice, spontaneous OA–like changes in the lining layer were significantly decreased in MMP-3–knockout mice compared with control mice. Even more striking was the 67% reduction in the occurrence of severe cartilage damage in MMP-3–knockout mice. In addition, MMP-mediated VDIPEN expression was significantly decreased, indicating reduced MMP-mediated cartilage breakdown.


The results of this study prove that MMP-3 is involved in the generation of severe cartilage damage in murine OA. Synovial macrophages are crucial in early MMP activity and appear to mediate MMP production in synovium rather than cartilage.