When cultivated together with pieces of cartilage biosynthetically labelled with 35S in their proteoglycans, rabbit macrophages, differentiated in vitro from bone-marrow cells, cause the release of soluble 35S-labelled material into the culture medium. This process is inhibited by killing the macrophages or by cycloheximide treatment, and is due to the secretion by the cells of a metal-dependent neutral proteinase capable of degrading cartilage proteoglycan subunits into fragments of high molecular weight. Enzyme activity is optimum at about pH7, and is inhibited by EDTA, o-phenanthroline, cysteine or serum, but not by di-isopropyl phosphorofluoridate nor by 4-hydroxymercuribenzoate. The effect of EDTA is partially reversed by Co2+ or Zn2+ ions. The enzyme is eluted from Sephadex G-150 columns as a single peak of material (apparent mol.wt. 17000) that contains also most of the proteolytic activity exerted by culture media on Azocoll (denatured collagen) or on casein. The possible role of this metalloproteinase in chronic inflammatory processes is discussed, particularly in connection with joint erosions in rheumatoid arthritis.

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