We have demonstrated previously that local, adenoviral-mediated gene transfer of vIL-10 to a single joint of rabbits and mice with experimental arthritis can suppress disease in both the treated and untreated contralateral joints. These therapeutic effects observed in distant untreated joints following local intra-articular gene delivery have been termed the 'contralateral effect'. To begin to understand the underlying immunologic mechanism that confers this effect, a dual-antigen model of antigen-induced arthritis (AIA) in rabbit knee joints was utilized. Rabbits were immunized against two antigens, ovalbumin and keyhole limpet hemocyanin, and AIA generated by intra-articular injection of each antigen into contralateral knees. Intra-articular adenovirus-mediated gene transfer of vIL-10 significantly reduced intra-articular leukocytosis and cartilage matrix degradation, while preserving near normal levels of cartilage matrix synthesis within treated joints. However, no antiarthritic effect was conferred in the contralateral control joints that received only a marker gene, in contrast to the results seen in a single-antigen AIA model. These results suggest that the distant antiarthritic effects associated with local gene delivery to joints are antigen-specific, and not due to vIL-10-induced generalized immunosuppression of the animal.