Cartilage Turnover Reflected by Metabolic Processing of Type II Collagen: A Novel Marker of Anabolic Function in Chondrocytes
OBJECTIVE To test for the reexpression of the chondroprogenitor splice variant of the gene COL2A1, type IIA procollagen (containing a cysteine-rich NH2 propeptide), in adult articular chondrocytes in osteoarthritic (OA) joint disease. METHODS In situ hybridization and immunohistochemical localization were performed on normal and OA articular cartilage specimens. The presence of type IIA procollagen messenger RNA (mRNA) expression was confirmed by Northern blot analysis. RESULTS In normal articular cartilage, no expression of mRNA or presence of type IIA procollagen was found. In OA articular cartilage, focally intense staining for type IIA protein was detected. Consistent with this, chondrocytes, particularly in the middle zones of articular cartilage, expressed type IIA procollagen mRNA. OA repair cartilage typically showed a broad zone of cells expressing type IIA mRNA and protein. CONCLUSION Type IIA procollagen is reexpressed by adult articular chondrocytes in OA cartilage degeneration, indicating the potential reversion of the cells to a chondroprogenitor cellular phenotype. The absence of type IIA mRNA and protein in normal adult articular cartilage and its onset in the diseased state suggests type IIA procollagen as a marker of OA.