Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is characterized by progressive destruction of synovial cartilage. In vitro, degradation of cartilage is stimulated by IL-1, a proinflammatory cytokine, which is released from RA synovial fibroblasts (RA-SF). To determine whether gene therapy using the gene encoding the naturally occurring inhibitor of IL-1, IL-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1Ra) is feasible, IL-1 Ra-transduced RA-SF were coimplanted with normal human cartilage in SCID mice. The IL-1 Ra-transduced RA-SF continued to secrete IL-1Ra over a 60-day period. Cartilage that was coimplanted with RA-SF transduced with a marker gene exhibited progressive, chondrocyte-mediated cartilage degradation, whereas no such degradation was observed in cartilage that was coimplanted with RA-SF transduced with IL-1 Ra. Thus, gene therapy using a retrovirus-based gene delivery system appears to be a feasible approach to effectively modifying the local synovial environment.