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Am J Pathol. 2004 Sep;165(3):959-67.

Interleukin-18 promotes joint inflammation and induces interleukin-1-driven cartilage destruction.

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  • 1Rheumatology Research Laboratory and Advanced Therapeutics, University Medical Center Nijmegen, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.


Interleukin (IL)-18 is a member of the IL-1 family of proteins that exerts proinflammatory effects and is a pivotal cytokine for the development of Th1 responses. The goal of the present study was to investigate whether IL-18 induces joint inflammation and joint destruction directly or via induction of other cytokines such as IL-1 and tumor necrosis factor (TNF). To this end we performed both in vitro and in vivo kinetic studies. For in vivo IL-18 exposure studies C57BL/6, TNF-deficient, and IL-1-deficient mice were injected intra-articularly with 1.10(7) pfu mIL-18 adenovirus followed by histopathological examination. Local overexpression of IL-18 resulted in pronounced joint inflammation and cartilage proteoglycan loss in control mice. Of high interest, IL-18 gene transfer in IL-1-deficient mice did not show cartilage damage, although joint inflammation was similar to that in wild-type animals. Overexpression of IL-18 in TNF-deficient mice showed that TNF was partly involved in IL-18-induced joint swelling and influx of inflammatory cells, but cartilage proteoglycan loss occurred independent of TNF. In vitro cartilage degradation by IL-18 was found after a 72-hour culture period. Blocking of IL-1 with IL-1Ra or an ICE-inhibitor resulted in complete protection against IL-18-mediated cartilage degradation. The present study demonstrated that IL-18 induces joint inflammation independently of IL-1. In addition, we showed that IL-1beta generation, because of IL-18 exposure, was essential for marked cartilage degradation both in vitro and in vivo. These findings implicate that IL-18, in contrast to TNF, contributes through separate pathways to joint inflammation and cartilage destruction.

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