Biochemical Journal

Research article

Aggrecanase versus matrix metalloproteinases in the catabolism of the interglobular domain of aggrecan in vitro



The importance of aggrecanase versus matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) enzymic activities in the degradation of aggrecan in normal and osteoarthritic (OA) articular cartilage in vitro was studied in order to further our understanding of the potential role of these two enzyme activities in aggrecan catabolism during the pathogenesis of cartilage degeneration. Porcine and bovine articular cartilage was maintained in explant culture for up to 20 days in the presence or absence of the catabolic stimuli retinoic acid, interleukin-1 or tumour necrosis factor-α. Release of proteoglycan from cartilage was measured as glycosaminoglycan (GAG) release using a colorimetric assay. Analysis of proteoglycan degradation products, both released into culture media and retained within the cartilage matrix, was performed by Western blotting using antibodies specific for the N- and C-terminal neoepitopes generated by aggrecanase- and MMP-related catabolism of the interglobular domain of the aggrecan core protein (IGD). In addition, studies determining the mRNA expression for MMP-3 and MMP-13 in these same cultures were undertaken. These analyses indicated that all three catabolic agents stimulated the release of > 80% of the GAG from the articular cartilage over 4 days. The degree of GAG release corresponded to an increase in aggrecanase-generated aggrecan catabolites released into the media and retained within the cartilage. Importantly, there was no evidence for the release of MMP-generated aggrecan metabolites into the medium, nor the accumulation of MMP-generated catabolites within the tissue in these same cultures. Expression of the mRNAs for two MMPs known to be capable of degrading the aggrecan IGD, MMP-3 and MMP-13, was detected. However, increased expression of these MMPs was not correlated with aggrecan degradation. Analyses using porcine cartilage, cultured with or without catabolic stimulation for 12 h to 20 days, indicated that primary cleavage of the IGD by aggrecanase was responsible for release of aggrecan metabolites at both the early and late time points of culture. Cultures of late-stage OA human articular cartilage samples indicated that aggrecanase activity was upregulated in the absence of catabolic stimulation when compared with normal porcine or bovine cartilage. In addition, even in this late-stage degenerate cartilage, aggrecanase and not MMP activity was responsible for the release of the majority of aggrecan from the cartilage. This study demonstrates that the release of aggrecan from both normal and OA cartilage in response to catabolic stimulation in vitro involves a primary cleavage by aggrecanase and not MMPs.

  • articular cartilage
  • explant culture
  • extracellular matrix
  • proteoglycan degradation
  • proteolysis