Infiltration of regional lymph nodes by macrophages has been demonstrated after total joint arthroplasty. Although lymph nodes regulate the immune response, neither cytokine production nor the degree of immunological activation of cells within these nodes after total joint arthroplasty has been investigated. Pelvic lymph nodes were obtained from five patients who had had a total of eleven arthroplasties in seven hips three to twenty years before a pelvic staging procedure for adenocarcinoma (of the prostate in four patients and of the endometrium in one). All lymph nodes had polyethylene or metal debris as well as effacement of the normal nodal architecture by a histiocytic infiltrate. These changes were bilateral in the patients who had had an arthroplasty of both hips but were present only on the ipsilateral side in the patients who had had an arthroplasty of one hip.Analysis of specimens from pelvic lymph nodes on the side of the involved hip demonstrated intense immunohistochemical staining of histiocytes for the major histocompatibility complex class-II antigen HLA-DR, a marker of histiocyte immune activation. In contrast, staining was absent in specimens from the contralateral lymph nodes as well as in those from seven patients who had had a prostatectomy but not a hip arthroplasty. Immunohistochemical staining for interleukin-1ß, tumor necrosis factor-a, and interleukin-6 demonstrated a much greater expression of these cytokines in the involved lymph nodes.CLINICAL RELEVANCE: Additional improvements in total joint replacement will be facilitated by a more thorough understanding of the biological response to the components and materials of implants. While local biological factors leading to failure of prostheses are currently under intense investigation, the mechanisms and importance of regional and systemic immune responses to wear debris require further study.