IntroductionLittle is known about factors that induce meniscus damage. Since joint inflammation appears to be a causative factor for meniscal destruction, we investigated the influence of tumor necrosis factor (TNFα) on glycosaminoglycan (GAG) release and aggrecan cleavage in an in vitro model.MethodsMeniscal explant disks (3 mm diameter × 1 mm thickness) were isolated from 2-year-old cattle. After 3 days of TNFα-treatment GAG release (DMMB assay), biosynthetic activity (sulfate incorporation), nitric oxide (NO) production (Griess assay), gene expression of matrix-degrading enzymes (quantitative RT-PCR, zymography), and immunostaining of the aggrecan fragment NITEGE were determined.ResultsTNFα induced release of GAG as well as production of NO in a dose-dependent manner, while sulfate incorporation was decreased. TNFα increased matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-3 and a disintegrin and metalloproteinase with thrombospondin motifs (ADAMTS)-4 mRNA expression, whereas collagen type I was decreased, and aggrecan, collagen type II as well as MMP-1, -2, -13 and ADAMTS-5 were variably affected. Zymography also showed a TNFα-dependent increase in MMP-3 expression, but pre-dominantly in the pro-form. TNFα-dependent formation of the aggrecanase-specific aggrecan neoepitope NITEGE was induced. Tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases (TIMP)-3, but not TIMP-1 or -2 inhibited TNFα-dependent GAG release and NITEGE production, whereas inhibition of TNFα-dependent NO generation with the NO-synthetase inhibitor L-NMMA failed to inhibit GAG release and NITEGE production.ConclusionsOur study shows that aggrecanase activity (a) is responsible for early TNFα-dependent aggrecan cleavage and GAG release in the meniscus and (b) might be involved in meniscal degeneration. Additionally, the meniscus is a TNFα-dependent source for MMP-3. However, the TNFα-dependent NO production seems not to be involved in release of proteoglycans under the given circumstances.