We have shown that macrophages in culture degrade the glycoproteins and amorphous elastin of insoluble extracellular matrices. Ultrastructural observation of the macrophage-matrix interaction revealed that connective tissue macromolecules were solubilized from the matrix extracellularly. At least part of the matrix breakdown was localized to the immediate vicinity of the cells, as shown by morphological and biochemical studies, although the rate of degradation correlated closely with the secretion of proteinases by various inflammatory stimuli in vivo, by glucocorticoids, prostaglandin E2 or colchicine, or by phagocytosis of latex, zymosan, or cholesterol-albumin complexes in culture was reflected in altered rates of glycoprotein and elastin degradation by the macrophages. Alteration of endocytosis and lysosomal digestion by cytochalasin B, NH4Cl, and proteinase inhibitors did not decrease the overall rate of matrix solubilization, but reduced the processing of the matrix fragments to peptides. Therefore, extracellular, pericellular, and lysosomal events each contribute to degradation of extracellular matrix macromolecules by inflammatory macrophages.

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