Articular cartilage destruction and loss of function in arthritic diseases involves proteolytic degradation of the connective tissue matrix. We have investigated the degradation of cartilage collagen by developing immunochemical methods that permit the identification and analysis of type II collagen degradation in situ. Previously, a technique to specifically identify type II collagen degradation in situ in articular cartilage did not exist. These methods utilize a polyclonal antiserum (R181) that specifically reacts with unwound alpha-chains and CNBr-derived peptides, alpha 1(II)CB11 and alpha 1(II)CB8, of human and bovine type II collagens. The experimental approach is based on the fact that when fibrillar collagens are cleaved the helical collagen molecule unwinds, exposing hidden epitopes. Here we demonstrate the use of R181 in studying type II collagen degradation in bovine articular cartilage that has been cultured with or without IL-1 and in human normal, rheumatoid, and osteoarthritic articular cartilages. Compared to cartilages either freshly isolated or cultured without IL-1, bovine cartilage cultured with IL-1 for 3-5 d showed an increase in both pericellular and intercellular immunohistochemical staining. Extracts of these cartilages contained type II collagen alpha chains that were increased in amount after culture with IL-1 for 11 d. In addition, culture with IL-1 resulted in the appearance of alpha chain fragments of lower molecular weight. All human arthritic tissues examined showed areas of pronounced pericellular and territorial staining for collagen degradation as compared with non-diseased tissues, indicating that chondrocytes are responsible in part for this degradation as compared with non-diseased tissues. In most cases rheumatoid cartilage was stained most intensely at the articular surface and in the deep and mid-zones, whereas osteoarthritic cartilage usually stained more in the superficial and mid-zones, but less intensely. Distinct patterns of sites of collagen degradation reflect differences in collagen destruction in these diseases, suggesting possible different sources of chondrocyte activation. These experiments demonstrate the application of immunological methods to detect collagen degradation and demonstrate an increase of collagen degradation in human arthritides and in IL-1-treated viable bovine cartilage.
G R Dodge, A R Poole