AIMS: To investigate the relative stability of collagen metabolites in degrading cartilage. METHODS: New antipeptide antibodies to denaturation epitopes located in the N-terminal and C-terminal regions of the type II collagen helix have been made and characterized. Type II collagen fragments in the conditioned medium from cultures of degrading bovine nasal cartilage were detected by immunoblotting with the new antisera as well as by N-terminal sequencing. The antibodies were also used in immunohistochemical studies of normal and osteoarthritic human cartilage. RESULTS: Type II collagen fragments with an apparent molecular mass of approximately 30 kDa were detected in cartilage conditioned media using antibody AH12L3, which recognizes N-terminal epitope AH12. The N-terminal sequence of one of these fragments matched exactly a sequence in the N-terminal region of type II collagen. Antibody AH9L2, which recognizes C-terminal epitope AH9, did not bind to any protein bands in the immunoblotted culture medium. In immunohistochemical studies, antibody AH12L3 detected extensive regions of degraded collagen in osteoarthritic cartilage and a more restricted pattern of staining in nonarthritic cartilage. Far less immunostaining was apparent in all cartilage specimens with antibody AH9L2. CONCLUSIONS: These results indicate that the N-terminal region of type II collagen is more resistant to proteolysis than the C-terminal region, an observation that has important implications for the choice of epitopes that are likely to be good markers of damage to cartilage collagen in patients with arthritis.
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