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Open Access Research article

Transient anabolic effects accompany epidermal growth factor receptor signal activation in articular cartilage in vivo

John B Shepard1, Jae-Wook Jeong2, Nita J Maihle3, Sean O'Brien1 and Caroline N Dealy14*

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Regenerative Medicine and Skeletal Development, Department of Reconstructive Sciences, School of Dental Medicine, University of Connecticut Health Center, 263 Farmington Avenue, Farmington CT 06030, USA

2 Departments of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, Michigan State University, 333 Bostwick Avenue NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503, USA

3 Departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Pathobiology, and Pharmacology, Yale University, 310 Cedar Street, New Haven, CT 06520, USA

4 Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, School of Medicine, University of Connecticut Health Center, 263 Farmington Avenue, Farmington, CT 06030, USA

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2013, 15:R60  doi:10.1186/ar4233

Published: 25 May 2013

Abstract

Introduction

Signals from the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) have typically been considered to provide catabolic activities in articular cartilage, and accordingly have been suggested to have a causal role in osteoarthritis progression. The aim of this study was to determine in vivo roles for endogenous EGFR signal activation in articular cartilage.

Methods

Transgenic mice with conditional, limb-targeted deletion of the endogenous intracellular EGFR inhibitor Mig-6 were generated using CreLoxP (Mig-6-flox; Prx1Cre) recombination. Histology, histochemical staining and immunohistochemistry were used to confirm activation of EGFR signaling in the articular cartilage and joints, and to analyze phenotypic consequences of Mig-6 loss on articular cartilage morphology, proliferation, expression of progenitor cell markers, presence of chondrocyte hypertrophy and degradation of articular cartilage matrix.

Results

The articular cartilage of Mig-6-conditional knockout (Mig-6-cko) mice was dramatically and significantly thicker than normal articular cartilage at 6 and 12 weeks of age. Mig-6-cko articular cartilage contained a population of chondrocytes in which EGFR signaling was activated, and which were three to four times more proliferative than normal Mig-6-flox articular chondrocytes. These cells expressed high levels of the master chondrogenic regulatory factor Sox9, as well as high levels of putative progenitor cell markers including superficial zone protein (SZP), growth and differentiation factor-5 (GDF-5) and Notch1. Expression levels were also high for activated β-catenin and the transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β) mediators phospho-Smad2/3 (pSmad2/3). Anabolic effects of EGFR activation in articular cartilage were followed by catabolic events, including matrix degradation, as determined by accumulation of aggrecan cleavage fragments, and onset of hypertrophy as determined by type × collagen expression. By 16 weeks of age, the articular cartilage of Mig-6-cko knees was no longer thickened and was degenerating.

Conclusions

These results demonstrate unexpected anabolic effects of EGFR signal activation in articular cartilage, and suggest the hypothesis that these effects may promote the expansion and/or activity of an endogenous EGFR-responsive cell population within the articular cartilage.

Keywords:
Epidermal growth factor receptor; EGFR; Articular cartilage; Osteoarthritis; Progenitor cells; Chondroprogenitors; Cartilage repair; Mig-6