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Biorheology. 2000;37(1-2):75-83.

Intercellular Ca2+ waves in mechanically stimulated articular chondrocytes.

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Dipartimento Biochimica, Biofisica e Chimica delle Macromolecole, Università di Trieste, Italy.


Articular cartilage is a tissue designed to withstand compression during joint movement and, in vivo, is subjected to a wide range of mechanical loading forces. Mechanosensitivity has been demonstrated to influence chondrocyte metabolism and cartilage homeostasis, but the mechanisms underlying mechanotransduction in these cells are poorly understood. In many cell types mechanical stimulation induces increases of the cytosolic Ca2+ concentration that propagates from cell to cell as an intercellular Ca2+ wave. Cell-to-cell communication through gap junctions underlies tissue co-ordination of metabolism and sensitivity to extracellular stimuli: gap junctional permeability to intracellular second messengers allows signal transduction pathways to be shared among several cells, ultimately resulting in co-ordinated tissue responses. Mechanically-induced Ca2+ signalling was investigated with digital fluorescence video imaging in primary cultures of rabbit articular chondrocytes. Mechanical stimulation of a single cell, obtained by briefly distorting the plasmamembrane with a micropipette, induced a wave of increased Ca2+ that was communicated to surrounding cells. Intercellular Ca2+ spreading was inhibited by 18 alpha-glycyrrhetinic acid, suggesting the involvement of gap junctions in signal propagation. The functional expression of gap junctions was assessed, in confluent chondrocyte cultures, by the intercellular transfer of Lucifer yellow dye in microinjection experiments while the expression of connexin 43 could be detected in Western blots. A series of pharmacological tools known to interfere with the cell calcium handling capacity were employed to investigate the mechanism of mechanically-induced Ca2+ signalling. In the absence of extracellular Ca2+ mechanical stimulation induced communicated Ca2+ waves similar to controls. Mechanical stress induced Ca2+ influx both in the stimulated chondrocyte but not in the adjacent cells, as assessed by the Mn2+ quenching technique. Cells treatment with thapsigargin and with the phospholipase C inhibitor U73122 blocked mechanically-induced signal propagation. These results provide evidence that in chondrocytes mechanical stimulation activates phospholipase C, thus leading to an increase of intracellular inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate. The second messenger, by permeating gap junctions, stimulates intracellular Ca2+ release in neighbouring cells. Intercellular Ca2+ waves may provide a mechanism to co-ordinate tissue responses in cartilage physiology.

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