We used the severe combined immunodeficient (SCID) mouse model to assess the effect of interleukin-4 (IL-4) or IL-10 injection on cartilage degradation and mononuclear cell (MNC) recruitment to human rheumatoid synovium in vivo. Human rheumatoid synovium and cartilage from five rheumatoid arthritis patients, obtained after joint replacement surgery, were engrafted subcutaneously to 6-8-week-old SCID CB17 mice. Synovial tissues were injected with recombinant human IL-4 (rhIL-4, 100 ng; rhIL-10, 100 ng), both cytokines, or tumour necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) (1000 U), or phosphate-buffered saline twice a week for 4 weeks. The graft was removed and immunochemical analysis was carried out to assess intracellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1), vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1) and E-selectin expression. Moreover, cartilage degradation was assessed through the quantification of the erosion surface on a computerized image of the engrafted cartilage at high power view. MNC recruitment in the synovial tissue was determined by labelling blood MNC with indium-111 before their intraperitoneal injection. The activity obtained in the region of the graft were determined with a gamma camera 72 hr postinjection. The results are expressed as a percentage of initial injected activity. After 4 weeks we observed a decrease of cartilage area in controls (77±8%), inhibited after injection of IL-4, IL-10, or both cytokines (90±3%, 89.1±4%, 89.2±5% respectively), and 57±17% after TNF-α injection. The % MNC activity in the graft decreased to 77±81% (NS), 9±4% (P<0.003) and 19±6% (P<0.007) compared with untreated synovial tissue after treatment with IL-4, IL-10, or both cytokines, respectively. Moreover, IL-10 but not IL-4 decreased the expression of ICAM-1 but not VCAM-1 or E-selectin by synovial cells. These results suggest that IL-10 and IL-4 could have chondroprotective properties, and that IL-10 but not IL-4 inhibits MNC traffic towards the synovial tissue efficiently.