Polymorphonuclear leucocytes (PMNs), which predominate in inflammatory synovial fluid, can degrade cartilage. This was measured by a novel in vitro model; PMNs were incubated for up to one hour with 2 or 3 microns sections of cartilage and the glycosaminoglycan loss determined by microdensitometry after alcian blue staining. Glycosaminoglycan loss could be as a result of damage from reactive oxygen species, proteolytic enzymes, or a combination of the two. The relative contributions of these mechanisms were evaluated using selective inhibitors. The results show that activated PMNs will degrade cartilage and that this degradation is due to proteolytic enzymes and not reactive oxygen species. There is a specificity involving elastase but not other serine proteases. It is suggested that enzyme inhibition may play a part in reducing PMN mediated cartilage damage.
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