In the post-natal growth plate, chondrocytes are arranged in columns parallel to the long axis of the bone. Chondrocytes divide perpendicular to this axis and then move into position one on top of another in a process called "rotation" that maintains columnar organization. Primary cilia are non-motile microtubule base appendages extending from the surface of almost all vertebrate cells. Primary cilia were described on chondrocytes almost 40 years ago but the function of these structures in cartilage biology is not known. Intraflagellar transport (IFT) is the process by which primary cilia are generated and maintained. This study tested the hypothesis that IFT plays an important role in post-natal skeletal development. Kif3a, a subunit of the Kinesin II motor complex, that is required for intraflagellar transport and the formation of cilia, was deleted in mouse chondrocytes via Col2a-Cre-mediated recombination. Disruption of IFT resulted in subsequent depletion of cilia and post-natal dwarfism due to premature loss of the growth plate likely a result of reduced proliferation and accelerated hypertrophic differentiation of chondrocytes. Cell shape and columnar orientation in the growth plate were also disrupted suggesting a defect in the process of rotation. Alterations in chondrocyte rotation were accompanied by disruption of the actin cytoskeleton and alterations in the localization of activated FAK to focal adhesion-like structures on chondrocytes. This is the first report indicating a role for IFT and primary cilia in the development of the post-natal growth plate. The results suggest a model in which IFT/cilia act to maintain the columnar organization of the growth plate via the process of chondrocyte rotation.
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