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Chondrocyte-ECM (extracellular matrix) interactions are believed to play a pivotal role in the development and metabolic homeostasis of articular cartilage. Cell surface adhesion molecules have been reported to modulate chondrocyte binding to ECM (collagen, fibronectin, laminin) and they also act as transducers of critical signals in many biological processes such as growth, differentiation, migration and matrix synthesis. Recently, it has been shown that normal human articular chondrocytes strongly express ß1 integrins, which are constituted by a common chain (ß1) and a variable α chain, but the behaviour of these molecules in human osteoarthritic cartilage has not been extensively investigated. We studied the expression of ß integrins (ß1-5, α1-6, av chains), LFA-1, ICAM-1 and CD44, on freshly isolated chondrocytes obtained from 10 osteoarthritic patients undergoing surgical knee replacement. Chondrocytes were isolated by enzymatic digestion from three zones of each articular cartilage with a differing degree of macroscopic and microscopic damage. Integrin expression and cell cycle analysis were carried out by flowcytometry. Chondrocytes from costal cartilages of 5 human fetuses were also studied. Chondrocytes from osteoarthritic cartilage expressed high levels of ß1 integrin and, at different percantages, all the α chains. The α chain most frequentiy expressed was α1, foilowed by α3, α5, α2, αv. Integrin expression decreased from the least to the most damaged zone of articular cartilage and cell cycle analysis showed that proliferating chondrocytes (S phase) were prevalent on the latter zone. ß2, ß3, ß2, ß5, CD44, LFA-1/ICAM-1 complex were very low expressed. Fetal chondrocytes strongly expressed ß1 and ß5 chains. These data provide evidence to show that integrin expression on human chondrocytes changes in osteoarthritis and suggest that perturbations of chondrocyte-ECM signalling occur in the development of the disease. The different pattern of expression of ß1 and ß5 chains on adult and fetal chondrocytes leads to speculate that integrins play a key role in control of cartilage morphogenesis and differentiation.
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