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We examined the role of osteoprotegerin (OPG) on tumour necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL)-induced apoptosis in rheumatoid fibroblast-like synovial cells (FLS). OPG protein concentrations in synovial fluid from patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) correlated with those of interleukin (IL)-1β or IL-6. A similar correlation was present between IL-1β and IL-6 concentrations. Rheumatoid FLS in vitro expressed both death domain-containing receptors [death receptor 4 (DR4) and DR5] and decoy receptors [decoy receptor 1 (DcR1) and DcR2]. DR4 expression on FLS was weak compared with the expression of DR5, DcR1 and DcR2. Recombinant TRAIL (rTRAIL) rapidly induced apoptosis of FLS. DR5 as well as DR4 were functional with regard to TRAIL-mediated apoptosis induction in FLS; however, DR5 appeared be more efficient than DR4. In addition to soluble DR5 (sDR5) and sDR4, OPG administration significantly inhibited TRAIL-induced apoptogenic activity. OPG was identified in the culture supernatants of FLS, and its concentration increased significantly by the addition of IL-1β in a time-dependent manner. Neither IL-6 nor tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-α increased the production of OPG from FLS. TRAIL-induced apoptogenic activity towards FLS was reduced when rTRAIL was added without exchanging the culture media, and this was particularly noticeable in the IL-1β-stimulated FLS culture; however, the sensitivity of FLS to TRAIL-induced apoptosis itself was not changed by IL-1β. Interestingly, neutralization of endogenous OPG by adding anti-OPG monoclonal antibody (MoAb) to FLS culture restored TRAIL-mediated apoptosis. Our data demonstrate that OPG is an endogenous decoy receptor for TRAIL-induced apoptosis of FLS. In addition, IL-1β seems to promote the growth of rheumatoid synovial tissues through stimulation of OPG production, which interferes with TRAIL death signals in a competitive manner.