In inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, functions of chondrocytes including synthesis of matrix proteins and proteinases are altered through interactions with cells of the infiltrating pannus. One of the major secreted products of mononuclear inflammatory cells is IL-1. In this study we found that recombinant human IL-Iβ suppressed synthesis of cartilage-specific type II collagen by cultured human costal chondrocytes associated with decreased steady state levels of α1(II) and α1(IX) procollagen mRNAs. In contrast, IL-1 increased synthesis of types I and III collagens and levels of α1(I), α2(I), and α1(III) procollagen mRNAs, as we described previously using human articular chondrocytes and synovial fibroblasts. This stimulatory effect of IL-1 was observed only when IL-1-stimulated PGE2 synthesis was blocked by the cyclooxygenase inhibitor indomethacin. The suppression of type II collagen mRNA levels by IL-1 alone was not due to IL-1-stimulated PGE2, since addition of indomethacin did not reverse, but actually potentiated, this inhibition. Continuous exposure of freshly isolated chondrocytes from day 2 of culture to approximately half-maximal concentrations of IL-1 (2.5 pM) completely suppressed levels of type II collagen mRNA and increased levels of types I and III collagen mRNAs, thereby reversing the ratio of α1(II)/α1(I) procollagen mRNAs from > 6.0 to < 1.0 by day 7. IL-1, therefore, can modify, at a pretranslational level, the relative amounts of the different types of collagen synthesized in cartilage and thereby could be responsible for the inappropriate repair of cartilage matrix lin inflammatory conditions.