Bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) have been implicated in regulating multiple stages of bone development. Recently it has been shown that constitutive activation of the BMP receptor-IA blocks chondrocyte differentiation in a similar manner as misexpression of Indian hedgehog. In this paper we analyze the role of BMPs as possible mediators of Indian hedgehog signaling and use Noggin misexpression to gain insight into additional roles of BMPs during cartilage differentiation. We show by comparative analysis of BMP and Ihh expression domains that the borders of Indian hedgehog expression in the chondrocytes are reflected in changes of the expression level of several BMP genes in the adjacent perichondrium. We further demonstrate that misexpression of Indian hedgehog appears to directly upregulate BMP2 and BMP4 expression, independent of the differentiation state of the flanking chondrocytes. In contrast, changes in BMP5 and BMP7 expression in the perichondrium correspond to altered differentiation states of the flanking chondrocytes. In addition, Noggin and Chordin, which are both expressed in the developing cartilage elements, also change their expression pattern after Ihh misexpression. Finally, we use retroviral misexpression of Noggin, a potent antagonist of BMP signaling, to gain insight into additional roles of BMP signaling during cartilage differentiation. We find that BMP signaling is necessary for the growth and differentiation of the cartilage elements. In addition, this analysis revealed that the members of the BMP/Noggin signaling pathway are linked in a complex autoregulatory network.
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