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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Synovial fluid level of aggrecan ARGS fragments is a more sensitive marker of joint disease than glycosaminoglycan or aggrecan levels: a cross-sectional study

Staffan Larsson*, L Stefan Lohmander and André Struglics

Author Affiliations

Department of Orthopaedics, Clinical Sciences Lund, Lund University, SE-221 85 Lund, Sweden

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2009, 11:R92  doi:10.1186/ar2735

Published: 22 June 2009



Aggrecanase cleavage at the 392Glu-393Ala bond in the interglobular domain (IGD) of aggrecan, releasing N-terminal 393ARGS fragments, is an early key event in arthritis and joint injuries. Here, we use a quantitative immunoassay of aggrecan ARGS neoepitope fragments in human synovial fluid to determine if this cleavage-site specific method better identifies joint pathology than previously available less specific aggrecan assays.


Synovial fluid (SF) from 26 people with healthy knees (reference) and 269 patients were analyzed in a cross-sectional study. Patient groups were acute inflammatory arthritis, acute knee injury, chronic knee injury and knee osteoarthritis (OA). Aggrecan ARGS fragments were assayed by ELISA using the monoclonal antibody OA-1. Total aggrecan content was analyzed by an ELISA using the monoclonal antibody 1-F21, and sulfated glycosaminoglycan by Alcian blue precipitation.


Aggrecan ARGS fragment concentrations in all groups differed from the reference group (P < 0.001). The acute inflammatory arthritis group had the highest median level, 177-fold greater than that of the reference group. Median levels (in pmol ARGS/ml SF) were: reference 0.5, acute inflammatory arthritis 88.5, acute knee injury 53.9, chronic knee injury 0.5 and OA 4.6. In contrast, aggrecan and sulfated glycosaminoglycan concentrations varied much less between groups, and only acute inflammatory arthritis and acute knee injury were found to have a two-fold increase in median levels compared to the reference.


Levels of aggrecan ARGS fragments in human synovial fluid are increased in human arthritis, OA and after knee injury, likely reflecting an enhanced cleavage at the 392Glu-393Ala bond in the IGD by aggrecanase. An assay that specifically quantified these fragments better distinguished samples from joints with pathology than assays monitoring aggrecan or glycosaminoglycan concentrations. The newly developed ARGS fragment assay can be used to monitor aggrecanase activity in human joint disease and experimental models.