Chondrocyte Differentiation in Human Osteoarthritis: Expression of Osteocalcin in Normal and Osteoarthritic Cartilage and Bone
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Osteocalcin (OC), which is a marker of the mature osteoblasts, can also be found in posthypertrophic chondrocytes of the epiphyseal growth plate, but not in chondrocytes of the resting zone or in adult cartilage. In human osteoarthritis (OA), chondrocytes can differentiate to a hypertrophic phenotype characterized by type X collagen. The protein- and mRNA-expression pattern of OC was systematically analyzed in decalcified cartilage and bone sections and nondecalcified cartilage sections of human osteoarthritic knee joints with different stages of OA to investigate the differentiation of chondrocytes in OA. In severe OA, we found an enhanced expression of the OC mRNA in the subchondral bone plate, demonstrating an increased osteoblast activity. Interestingly, the OC protein and OC mRNA were also detected in osteoarthritic chondrocytes, whereas in chondrocytes of normal adult cartilage, both the protein staining and the specific mRNA signal were negative. The OC mRNA signal increased with the severity of OA and chondrocytes from the deep cartilage layer, and proliferating chondrocytes from clusters showed the strongest signal for OC mRNA. In this late stage of OA, chondrocytes also stained for alkaline phosphatase and type X collagen. Our results clearly show that the expression of OC in chondrocytes correlates with chondrocyte hypertrophy in OA. Although the factors including this phenotypic shift in OA are still unknown, it can be assumed that the altered microenvironment around osteoarthritic chondrocytes and systemic mediators could be potential inducers of this differentiation.
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