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Micron. 2001 Jun;32(4):439-46.

Anionic sites in articular cartilage revealed by polyethyleneimine staining.

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Department of Anatomy, Yamanashi Medical University, Yamanashi 409-3898, Japan.


Articular cartilage is a unique tissue that contains neither blood vessels nor nerves, and that performs mechanical loading during joint movement. These properties are endowed by abundant glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), which are capable of retaining water-soluble substances. The GAGs attach to core proteins and form proteoglycans. Although many studies have focused on proteoglycans and collagen fibrils in cartilage, little is known about the nature of the negative charge of GAGs. Recently, we investigated this subject using a cationic dye, polyethyleneimine (PEI), with several different techniques such as pre-embedding, post-embedding, and quick-freezing and deep-etching methods. In addition, we investigated whether the anionic charge is altered at low pH, using PEI and cationic colloidal gold (CCG) labeling. The shapes of PEI-positive structures revealed by the pre-embedding method varied at different pHs. Three-dimensional analysis using the quick-freezing and deep-etching method demonstrated that meshwork structures composed of fine filaments were decorated with tiny PEI granules. Additionally, the meshwork structure was broken down after chondroitinase ABC digestion. These data indicate that the large PEI deposits observed in pre-embedding preparations are, at least in part, artificial images, and that the meshwork structure consists of chondroitin sulfate-retaining anionic sites. Low pH conditions changed PEI or CCG labeling patterns, showing that negative charges of GAGs in articular cartilage are altered under environmental pH conditions. These findings demonstrate that binding capacities of anionic sites to water-soluble or ionic substances are greatly affected by pH alterations without actually decreasing the number of anionic sites. Therefore, to understand cartilage dynamics and the pathogenesis of joint diseases in greater detail, alterations of anionic charge during mechanical loading or under pathological conditions should be examined in future studies.

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