Proinflammatory cytokines, including tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and interleukin 1 (IL-1), mediate the joint destruction that characterizes rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Previous studies have shown that parathyroid hormone-related protein (PTHrP) is a member of the cascade of proinflammatory cytokines induced in parenchymal organs during lethal endotoxemia. To test the hypothesis that NH2-terminal PTHrP, a potent bone resorbing agent, could also be a member of the synovial cascade of tissue-destructive cytokines whose expression is induced in RA, PTHrP expression was examined in synovium and synoviocytes obtained from patients with RA and osteoarthritis (OA). PTHrP production, as determined by measurement of immunoreactive PTHrP(1-86) in tissue explant supernatants, was increased 10-fold in RA versus OA synovial tissue. Synovial lining cells and fibroblast-like cells within the pannus expressed both PTHrP and the PTH/PTHrP receptor, findings that were confirmed by in vitro studies of cultured synoviocytes. TNF-alpha and IL-1beta stimulated PTHrP expression in synoviocytes, while dexamethasone and interferon-gamma, agents with some therapeutic efficacy in the treatment of RA, inhibited PTHrP release. Treatment of synoviocytes with PTHrP(1-34) stimulated IL-6 secretion. These results suggest that proinflammatory cytokine-stimulated production of NH2-terminal PTHrP by synovial tissue directly invading cartilage and bone in RA may mediate joint destruction through direct effects on cartilage or bone, or, indirectly, via the induction of mediators of bone resorption in the tumor-like synovium.