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Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2001;9 Suppl A:S69-75.

L-Sox5, Sox6 and Sox9 control essential steps of the chondrocyte differentiation pathway.

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Department of Molecular Genetics, The University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston 77030, USA.



This work was carried out to identify transcription factors controlling the differentiation of mesenchymal cells into chondrocytes.


We delineated a cartilage-specific enhancer in the collagen type 2 gene (Col2a1) and identified transcription factors responsible for the activity of this enhancer in chondrocytes. We then analyzed the ability of these transcription factors to activate specific genes of the chondrocyte differentiation program and control cartilage formation in vivo.


A 48-bp sequence in the first intron of Col2a1 drove gene expression specifically in cartilage in transgenic mouse embryos. The transcription factors L-Sox5, Sox6, and Sox9 bound and cooperatively activated this enhancer in vitro. They belong to the Sry-related family of HMG box DNA-binding proteins, which includes many members implicated in cell fate determination in various lineages. L-Sox5, Sox6, and Sox9 were coexpressed in all precartilaginous condensations in mouse embryos and continued to be expressed in chondrocytes until the cells underwent final hypertrophy. Whereas L-Sox5 and Sox6 are highly homologous proteins, they are totally different from Sox9 outside the HMG box domain. The three proteins cooperatively activated the Col2a1- and aggrecan genes in cultured cells. Heterozygous mutations in SOX9 in humans lead to campomelic dysplasia, a severe and generalized skeletal malformation syndrome. Embryonic cells with a homozygous Sox9 mutation were unable to form cartilage in vivo and activate essential chondrocyte marker genes. Preliminary data indicated that the mutation of Sox5 and Sox6 in the mouse led to severe skeletal malformations.


L-Sox5, Sox6, and Sox9 play essential roles in chondrocyte differentiation and, thereby, in cartilage formation. Their discovery will help to understand further the molecular mechanisms controlling chondrogenesis in vivo, uncover genetic mechanisms underlying cartilage diseases, and develop novel strategies for cartilage repair.

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