We have previously hypothesized that the pro-inflammatory cytokine TNF alpha has a pivotal role in the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). It mediates its effects by cross-linking surface p55 TNF receptors (TNF-R), which can be proteolytically cleaved to yield soluble fragments. Upon binding TNF alpha soluble TNF-R (sTNF-R) can inhibit its function. We investigated the enzymatic nature of the proteases involved in TNF-R cleavage, and found that this process is blocked by a synthetic inhibitor of matrix metallo-proteinase activity (MMP), BB-2275. Inhibition of TNF-R cleavage was observed in a number of different cell types, as detected by retention of surface bound TNF receptor and by less sTNF-R released into the cell supernatant. The augmentation of surface TNF-R expression was of biological relevance as TNF alpha-mediated necrosis of human KYM.1D4 rhabdosarcoma cells was enhanced approximately 15-fold in the presence of BB-2275. The addition of BB-2275 to rheumatoid synovial membrane cell cultures totally inhibited MMP activity and also significantly reduced the levels of soluble TNF alpha (P < 0.006), p55 sTNF-R (P < 0.006), and p75 sTNF-R (P < 0.004). Paradoxically, despite the reduction in soluble TNF alpha levels, the production of IL-1 beta, IL-6, and IL-8, cytokines whose production was previously demonstrated to be inhibited by the addition of neutralizing anti-TNF alpha antibody were not down-regulated by BB-2275. These results raise the interesting possibility that a close relationship exits between the enzyme(s) which process membrane-bound TNF alpha, and those involved in surface TNF-R cleavage. Furthermore our observations suggest that hydroxamate inhibitors of MMP activity which block TNF alpha secretion and TNF-R cleavage may not modulate down-stream effects of TNA alpha, and as such suggest that the precise specificity of these compounds will be highly relevant to their clinical efficacy in inflammatory diseases.


L M Williams, D L Gibbons, A Gearing, R N Maini, M Feldmann, F M Brennan


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