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J Cell Biochem. 1997 Sep 1;66(3):394-403.

Rapid chondrocyte maturation by serum-free culture with BMP-2 and ascorbic acid.

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Department of Biochemistry, School of Dental Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia 19104, USA.


In serum-containing medium, ascorbic acid induces maturation of prehypertrophic chick embryo sternal chondrocytes. Recently, cultured chondrocytes have also been reported to undergo maturation in the presence of bone morphogenetic proteins or in serum-free medium supplemented with thyroxine. In the present study, we have examined the combined effect of ascorbic acid, BMP-2, and serum-free conditions on the induction of alkaline phosphatase and type X collagen in chick sternal chondrocytes. Addition of either ascorbate or rhBMP-2 to nonconfluent cephalic sternal chondrocytes produced elevated alkaline phosphatase levels within 24-72 h, and simultaneous exposure to both ascorbate and BMP yielded enzyme levels at least threefold those of either inducer alone. The effects of ascorbate and BMP were markedly potentiated by culture in serum-free medium, and alkaline phosphatase levels of preconfluent serum-free cultures treated for 48 h with BMP+ascorbate were equivalent to those reached in serum-containing medium only after confluence. While ascorbate addition was required for maximal alkaline phosphatase activity, it did not induce a rapid increase in type X collagen mRNA. In contrast, BMP added to serum-free medium induced a three- to fourfold increase in type X collagen mRNA within 24 h even in the presence of cyclohexamide, indicating that new protein synthesis was not required. Addition of thyroid hormone to serum-free medium was required for maximal ascorbate effects but not for BMP stimulation. Neither ascorbate nor BMP induced alkaline phosphatase activity in caudal sternal chondrocytes, which do not undergo hypertrophy during embryonic development. These results indicate that ascorbate+BMP in serum-free culture induces rapid chondrocyte maturation of prehypertrophic chondrocytes. The mechanisms for ascorbate and BMP action appear to be distinct, while BMP and thyroid hormone may share a similar mechanism for induction.

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