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Dev Biol. 2011 Mar 1;351(1):70-81. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2010.12.022. Epub 2010 Dec 23.

Synovial joint formation requires local Ext1 expression and heparan sulfate production in developing mouse embryo limbs and spine.

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  • 1Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, College of Medicine, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, PA 19107, USA.


Heparan sulfate proteoglycans (HSPGs) regulate a number of major developmental processes, but their roles in synovial joint formation remain unknown. Here we created conditional mouse embryo mutants lacking Ext1 in developing joints by mating Ext1(f/f) and Gdf5-Cre mice. Ext1 encodes a subunit of the Ext1/Ext2 Golgi-associated protein complex responsible for heparan sulfate (HS) synthesis. The proximal limb joints did form in the Gdf5-Cre;Ext1(f/f) mutants, but contained an uneven articulating superficial zone that expressed very low lubricin levels. The underlying cartilaginous epiphysis was deranged as well and displayed random patterns of cell proliferation and matrillin-1 and collagen IIA expression, indicative of an aberrant phenotypic definition of the epiphysis itself. Digit joints were even more affected, lacked a distinct mesenchymal interzone and were often fused likely as a result of local abnormal BMP and hedgehog activity and signaling. Interestingly, overall growth and lengthening of long bones were also delayed in the mutants. To test whether Ext1 function is needed for joint formation at other sites, we examined the spine. Indeed, entire intervertebral discs, normally composed by nucleus pulposus surrounded by the annulus fibrosus, were often missing in Gdf5-Cre;Ext1(f/f) mice. When disc remnants were present, they displayed aberrant organization and defective joint marker expression. Similar intervertebral joint defects and fusions occurred in Col2-Cre;β-catenin(f/f) mutants. The study provides novel evidence that local Ext1 expression and HS production are needed to maintain the phenotype and function of joint-forming cells and coordinate local signaling by BMP, hedgehog and Wnt/β-catenin pathways. The data indicate also that defects in joint formation reverberate on, and delay, overall long bone growth.

Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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