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Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2005 Nov;13(11):988-97. Epub 2005 Sep 13.

Subchondral bone osteoblasts induce phenotypic changes in human osteoarthritic chondrocytes.

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Bone and Cartilage Metabolism Research Unit, Institute of Pathology, University Hospital, CHU B23, Sart-Tilman, 4000 Li├Ęge, Belgium.



To determine the influence of osteoarthritic (OA) phenotype of subchondral osteoblasts on the phenotype of human chondrocytes.


Human chondrocytes were isolated from OA cartilage and cultured in alginate beads for 4 or 10 days in the absence or in the presence of osteoblasts in monolayer. The osteoblasts were either isolated from non-sclerotic (N) or sclerotic (SC) zones of human subchondral bone. Before co-culture, osteoblasts were incubated for 72 h with or without 1.7 ng/ml interleukin (IL)-1beta, 100 ng/ml IL-6 with its soluble receptor (50 ng/ml) or 10 ng/ml oncostatin M. SOX9, type I, II and X collagen (COL1, COL2, COL10), osteoblasts-stimulating factor (OSF)-1, bone alkaline phosphatase (ALP), parathyroid hormone related peptide (PTHrP) and its receptor (PTH-R) messenger RNA (mRNA) levels in chondrocytes were quantified by real-time polymerase chain reaction.


In comparison with chondrocytes cultured alone in alginate beads, chondrocytes after 4 days in co-culture with N or SC osteoblasts expressed significantly less SOX9 and COL2 mRNA. The decrease of SOX9 and COL2 gene expression was significantly more pronounced in the presence of SC than in the presence of N osteoblasts (P<0.001). OSF-1 mRNA level in chondrocyte was increased by both N and SC osteoblasts, but to a larger extent by SC osteoblasts (P<0.001). PTHrP expression in chondrocytes was 21-fold increased by N osteoblasts but four-fold inhibited by SC osteoblasts. PTHrP secretion was also increased by N but reduced by SC osteoblasts. SC, but not N osteoblasts, induced a significant decrease of PTH-R gene expression in chondrocyte. In our experimental conditions, chondrocytes did not express COL1, COL10 or ALP, even after 10 days of co-culture with osteoblasts.


In co-culture, SC subchondral osteoblasts decrease SOX9, COL2, PTHrP and PTH-R gene expression by chondrocytes but increase that of OSF-1. These findings suggest that SC osteoblasts could initiate chondrocyte phenotype shift towards hypertrophic differentiation and subsequently further matrix mineralization.

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