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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.

Original publication




Journal article


J Clin Invest

Publication Date





2833 - 2841


Arthritis, Rheumatoid, Cell Line, Humans, Hydroxamic Acids, Metalloendopeptidases, Protease Inhibitors, Receptors, Tumor Necrosis Factor, Rhabdomyosarcoma, Synovial Membrane, Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha