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Bone. 2004 Aug;35(2):543-52.

VEGF expression in adult permanent thyroid cartilage: implications for lack of cartilage ossification.

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Institute of Anatomy, Christian-Albrechts-University, Kiel, Germany.


Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) has been shown to play an important role during endochondral bone formation in hypertrophic cartilage remodeling, ossification, and angiogenesis, but it is not expressed in normal adult articular cartilage. Thyroid cartilage undergoes only partial ossification beginning at the age of about 20. Because it never completely ossifies, we investigated a possible role of VEGF and its receptors (VEGFRs) as well as the angiogenetic inhibitor endostatin in this permanent cartilage. In analysis of cartilage samples from all specimens evaluated, VEGF121 and VEGF165 were identified as the only VEGF splice forms expressed. In addition to VEGF, VEGFR-2 (kinase domain region/fetal liver kinase 1), but not VEGFR-1 (fms-like tyrosine kinase 1), was detectable by RT-PCR in cartilage. However, VEGFR-2 expression was only detectable up to the age of 19 years. Deposition of VEGF and VEGFR was confirmed by immunohistochemistry. VEGF concentrations measured by ELISA in thyroid cartilage increased with age in males but decreased in females. Endostatin concentrations measured by ELISA in thyroid cartilage were three times lower than in articular cartilage and showed no change with age, either in females or males. VEGF was immunostained within the intra- and pericellular matrices of some but not all chondrocytes. Thus, apart from its production in hypertrophic chondrocytes of growth plates, VEGF is also produced in single chondrocytes of thyroid cartilage. The data allow us to speculate that thyroid cartilage persists in an embryological state until it has reached its final size. After reaching its final size at the end of the second decade, VEGFR-2 is downregulated and ossification starts in the posterior part of the thyroid cartilage, proceeding ventrally. Both proteins, VEGF121 and VEGF165, should contribute to this process. VEGF concentration is high and changes in an age-related and sex-specific manner. Therefore, we postulate that VEGF is at least one of the key factors that is important for the lifelong ossification in thyroid cartilage.

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