Doxycycline (DOX) profoundly inhibited collagen synthesis by differentiated articular chondrocytes. At 25 microM, the rate of collagen synthesis was suppressed by more than 50% without affecting cell proliferation (DNA levels) and general protein synthesis (35S-Met and 35S-Cys incorporation). Steady-state mRNA levels of type II collagen were also reduced, indicating that DOX may have an effect at the transcriptional level of type II collagen. The IC50 value of DOX to downregulate collagen synthesis (17 microM) is close to DOX levels attained in vivo (< 10 microM), and it is more than ten-fold lower than the IC50 values to inhibit the activity of most matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). As such, these findings support the hypothesis that the reduced severity of OA observed in the dog anterior cruciate ligament model resulting from prophylactic treatment with DOX may involve mechanisms other than MMP inhibition alone. Our findings suggest that prevention of changes in the chondrocyte phenotype may be involved in the beneficial effect of doxycycline in experimental osteoarthritis, for differentiated chondrocytes in early stages of osteoarthritis exhibit elevated collagen synthesis.