Histochemistry and Cell Biology

, Volume 138, Issue 3, pp 461–475 | Cite as

Chondroitin sulphate and heparan sulphate sulphation motifs and their proteoglycans are involved in articular cartilage formation during human foetal knee joint development

  • James Melrose
  • Marc D. Isaacs
  • Susan M. Smith
  • Clare E. Hughes
  • Christopher B. Little
  • Bruce Caterson
  • Anthony J. HayesEmail author
Original Paper


Novel sulphation motifs within the glycosaminoglycan chain structure of chondroitin sulphate (CS) containing proteoglycans (PGs) are associated with sites of growth, differentiation and repair in many biological systems and there is compelling evidence that they function as molecular recognition sites that are involved in the binding, sequestration or presentation of soluble signalling molecules (e.g. morphogens, growth factors and cytokines). Here, using monoclonal antibodies 3B3(−), 4C3 and 7D4, we examine the distribution of native CS sulphation motifs within the developing connective tissues of the human foetal knee joint, both during and after joint cavitation. We show that the CS motifs have broad, overlapping distributions within the differentiating connective tissues before the joint has fully cavitated; however, after cavitation, they all localise very specifically to the presumptive articular cartilage tissue. Comparisons with the labelling patterns of heparan sulphate (HS), HS-PGs (perlecan, syndecan-4 and glypican-6) and FGF-2, molecules with known signalling roles in development, indicate that these also become localised to the future articular cartilage tissue after joint cavitation. Furthermore, they display interesting, overlapping distributions with the CS motifs, reflective of early tissue zonation. The overlapping expression patterns of these molecules at this site suggests they are involved, or co-participate, in early morphogenetic events underlying articular cartilage formation; thus having potential clinical relevance to mechanisms involved in its repair/regeneration. We propose that these CS sulphation motifs are involved in modulating the signalling gradients responsible for the cellular behaviours (proliferation, differentiation, matrix turnover) that shape the zonal tissue architecture present in mature articular cartilage.


Chondroitin sulphate Heparan sulphate Perlecan Syndecan Glypican FGF Articular cartilage 



Thanks to Drs. Mari Nowell (Cardiff School of Medicine), Hannah Shaw and Jim Ralphs (Cardiff School of Biosciences), for help in the anatomy of the foetal human knee. This work was funded with financial support from the Arthritis Research UK (ARUK grant numbers 18331 and 19858).

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOC 7370 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • James Melrose
    • 1
  • Marc D. Isaacs
    • 2
  • Susan M. Smith
    • 1
  • Clare E. Hughes
    • 2
  • Christopher B. Little
    • 1
  • Bruce Caterson
    • 2
  • Anthony J. Hayes
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Raymond Purves Laboratory, Institute of Bone and Joint Research, Kolling Institute of Medical ResearchUniversity of Sydney at The Royal North Shore HospitalSt. LeonardsAustralia
  2. 2.Connective Tissue Biology Laboratories, School of BiosciencesCardiff UniversityCardiffWales, UK
  3. 3.Bio-imaging Unit, Cardiff School of BiosciencesCardiff UniversityCardiffUK

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