Background: Matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) have a pivotal role in the destruction of cartilage in rheumatoid arthritis (RA), which is mediated by the fibroblast-like synoviocytes (FLS).
Objective: To examine the in vitro invasiveness of synoviocytes obtained from inflamed joints of patients with arthritis in relation to the expression of MMP 1–14, 17, 19, cathepsin-K, the tissue inhibitors of matrix metalloproteinases TIMP-1 and TIMP-2 by FLS.
Methods: FLS were derived from 56 patients (30 with RA, 17 with osteoarthritis (OA), and nine with avascular necrosis (AVN)). Invasive growth of FLS through an artificial matrix (Matrigel) was measured in a transwell system. The number of cells that migrated through the matrix were counted. Proliferation rate was determined by counting the FLS after seven days of culturing. Expression of MMPs, cathepsin-K and TIMPs was investigated with reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction and related to the expression of a household gene, ß-actin.
Results: FLS from RA showed greater invasive growth than FLS from OA and AVN. The median number of cells that grew through the matrix membrane was 4788 for RA, significantly higher than the number for OA, 1875 (p<0.001) and for AVN, 1530 (p=0.014). The median rate of proliferation of RA FLS was 0.27 per day compared with OA 0.22 per day (p= 0.012) and AVN 0.25 per day, but there was no correlation between the rate of proliferation and invasive growth in vitro. FLS from RA and OA that expressed MMP-1, MMP-3, or MMP-10 were significantly more invasive (median number of invasive cells: 3835, 4248, 4990, respectively) than cells that did not express these MMPs (1605, p=0.03; 1970, p=0.004; 2360, p=0.012, respectively). There was also a significant relationship between the expression of MMP-1 and MMP-9 and the diagnosis RA (both p=0.013). The expression levels of mRNA for MMP-1 and MMP-2 correlated with the protein levels produced by the synoviocytes as measured by an enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA).
Conclusion: FLS of RA invade more aggressively in a Matrigel matrix than OA and AVN FLS; this is not because of a higher rate of proliferation of RA FLS. The significant correlation between the expression of MMP-1, MMP-3, and MMP-10 and invasive growth in a Matrigel transwell system suggests that these MMPs play a part in the invasive growth of FLS obtained from patients with RA.