Matrix metalloproteinases are a family of endopeptidases that collectively degrade all components of the extracellular matrix at neutral pH. During the progression of arthritis, MMPs mediate the degradation of cartilage, which consists largely of Type II collagen fibrils and proteoglycans. The collagenases, a subgroup of MMPs, have the singular ability to cleave intact collagens and may provide a rate-limiting step in cartilage destruction. In arthritic lesions, collagenase-1 (matrix metalloproteinase-1) and collagenase-3 (matrix metalloproteinase-13) mediate the irreversible destruction of cartilage, suggesting that these enzymes are therapeutic targets. We describe the role of metalloproteinases in the destruction of connective tissues in arthritis and the treatment strategies that have been developed to block matrix metalloproteinases in an attempt to prevent this destruction. We also discuss novel compounds that may selectively inhibit these cartilage-degrading enzymes, providing opportunities to develop new therapeutic approaches.

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