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Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2008 May;16(5):615-23. Epub 2007 Oct 22.

Biochemical markers of type II collagen breakdown and synthesis are positioned at specific sites in human osteoarthritic knee cartilage.

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  • 1Department of Clinical Cell Biology, University of Southern Denmark, Vejle Hospital, Vejle, Denmark.



To investigate whether type II collagen turnover markers used for osteoarthritis (OA) activity evaluation in body fluids can be detected at the level of specific histological features of OA cartilage tissue, as well as how they relate with each other at this level.


Adjacent sections were obtained from full-depth cartilage biopsies from 32 OA knees. Immunohistochemistry was performed for Helix-II and CTX-II, which are type II collagen fragments originating from the triple helix and the telopeptide region, respectively, and believed to reflect distinct breakdown events, as well as for type IIA N propeptide (PIIANP), a biochemical marker reflecting synthesis of type IIA collagen.


Helix-II and CTX-II were detected in areas where collagen damage was reported previously, most frequently around chondrocytes, but also frequently in regions not previously investigated such as the margin area and close to subchondral bone, including vascularization sites and bone-cartilage interface. The latter is CTX-II's prevailing position and shows rarely Helix-II. PIIANP co-localized with Helix-II and CTX-II on a limited number of features, mainly in deep zone cartilage. Overall, our analysis highlights clear patterns of association of the markers with specific histological features, and shows that they spread to these features in an ordered way.


Helix-II and CTX-II show to some degree differential selectivity for specific features in cartilage tissue. CTX-II detection close to bone may be relevant to the possible role of subchondral bone in OA. The restricted co-localization of breakdown markers and PIIANP suggests that collagen fragments can result only partially from newly synthesized collagen. Our study strengthens the interest for the question whether combining several markers reflecting different regional cartilage contributions or metabolic processes should allow a broader detection of OA activity.

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