IL-1 can participate in the perpetuation of arthritis through direct stimulation of synoviocytes and augmentation of matrix degradation. Hence, local production of the IL-1R antagonist protein (IRAP) might be an important negative feedback signal that regulates synovitis. We assessed synovial IRAP production in synovia from 30 individuals, by using a specific mAb and the immunoperoxidase staining method. IRAP was detected in 11 of 12 rheumatoid arthritis (RA) synovial tissues (ST) and was located primarily in the sublining, particularly in perivascular regions enriched for macrophages. Some staining was observed in the intimal lining of the synovium, although this was significantly less than in the sublining (p less than 0.05). Nine of 12 osteoarthritis (OA) tissues were positive for IRAP. In contrast to RA, the staining was observed primarily in the synovial lining in OA, with only minimal sublining IRAP being detected. Synovia from four patients without arthritis were negative (three autopsy specimens and one post-traumatic sample). Of the other two patients with miscellaneous diagnoses, one sample was negative (tenosynovitis) and one was positive (seronegative inflammatory arthritis) (sublining). Studies of serial sections and double-immunostaining experiments indicated that macrophages are the major cells containing immunoreactive IRAP. IRAP gene expression in vivo was determined by performing in situ hybridization on ST from 17 arthritis patients. RNA sense IRAP probes did not hybridize to any tissues. Anti-sense IRAP probes bound to two of nine RA tissues, two of six OA tissues, one of one seronegative inflammatory arthropathy tissue, and none of one flexor tenosynovitis tissue. As with immunoreactive protein, IRAP mRNA was primarily localized to cells in the synovial lining in OA but was more prominent in perivascular lymphoid aggregates in RA and seronegative inflammatory arthropathy. Northern blot analysis was performed on RNA isolated from nine ST. The appropriately sized IRAP band was identified in six of nine samples (five of six RA and one of three OA). Supernatants from cultured RA and OA ST cells contained immunoreactive and biologically active IRAP. Hence, IRAP gene expression and protein production occur in RA and OA synovium, albeit in different distributions.