The metabolism of the cartilage proteoglycan aggrecan was studied in patients with osteoarthritis (OA, n = 83), rheumatoid arthritis (RA, n = 127), and in controls (n = 117) using monoclonal antibody-based radioimmunoassays for glycosaminoglycans in the serum and synovial fluid (SF) to detect epitope 846 on chondroitin sulfate (probably only on recently synthesized molecules) and a keratan sulfate (KS) epitope AN9PI, present on intact and degraded molecules. Epitope 846 levels were always elevated in SF over serum (mean 38-fold in OA and 8.6-fold in RA) being highest in OA patients with the longest disease duration and greatest loss of cartilage, and lowest in RA joints with high leucocyte counts. Serum levels were more often elevated in RA (56%) than in OA (19%) and probably reflect increased aggrecan synthesis in diseased joints. KS levels were higher in SF than in serum in 69% of patients (up to 2.3-fold); levels were inversely (OA) and directly (RA) related to SF leucocyte counts. Serum KS was reduced in both diseases and in RA was inversely related to both systemic and joint inflammation markers. SF 846 levels were inversely related to SF KS in both diseases. These epitopes may provide a measure of the balance between cartilage synthesis and degradation in these diseases.
A R Poole, M Ionescu, A Swan, P A Dieppe