The content of the C-terminal region of aggrecan was investigated in samples of articular cartilage from individuals ranging in age from newborn to 65 years. This region contains the globular G3 domain which is known to be removed from aggrecan in mature cartilage, probably by proteolytic cleavage, but the age-related changes in its abundance in human cartilage have not been described previously. The analysis was performed by immunosorbant assay using an antiserum (JD5) against recombinant protein expressed from a cDNA clone encoding the terminal 598 amino acid residues of human aggrecan, on crude extracts of cartilage without further purification of aggrecan. The results showed that the content of the C-terminal region decreased with age relative to the G1 domain content (correlation coefficient = 0.463). This represented a 92% fall in the content of this region of the molecule from newborn to 65 years of age. Furthermore, when the G1 content of the cartilage extracts was corrected to only include the G1 attached to aggrecan and to exclude the G1 fragments which accumulate as a by-product of normal aggrecan turnover (free G1), the age-related decrease in the C-terminal region remained very pronounced. Analysis by composite agarose/PAGE showed that the number of subpopulations of aggrecan resolved increased from one in newborn to three in adult cartilage. All of these reacted with an antiserum to the human G1 domain, but only the slowest migrating species reacted with the C-terminal region antiserum (JD5). Similar analysis by SDS/PAGE confirmed the presence of high-molecular-mass (200 kDa) proteins reactive with JD5, but no reactive fragments of lower electrophoretic mobility were detected. In contrast, when probed with the antiserum to the human G1 domain, the immunoblots showed protein species corresponding to the free G1 and G1-G2 fragments, which were present at high concentrations in adult cartilage. The results suggest that the loss of the C-terminal region is not directly part of the process of aggrecan turnover, but it is a slow independent matrix process that occurs more extensively with aging as turnover rates become slower. Young cartilage with the fastest turnover contains least molecules lacking the C-terminal region, whereas in old tissue with slow turnover few molecules retain this region. An increase in the cleavage of this region with age may also contribute to this change. The content of the C-terminal region may thus give a measure of the abundance of newly synthesized aggrecan.
- The Biochemical Society, London © 1996