Objective: Based on function and developmental fate, cartilage tissue can be broadly classified into two types: transient (embryonic or growth-plate) cartilage and permanent cartilage. Chondrocytes in transient cartilage undergo terminal differentiation into hypertrophic cells, induce cartilage-matrix mineralization, and eventually disappear and are replaced by bone. On the other hand, chondrocytes in permanent cartilage do not differentiate further, do not become hypertrophic, and persist throughout life at specific sites, including joints and tracheal rings. While many studies have described differences in structure, matrix composition and biological characteristics between permanent and transient cartilage, it is poorly understood how the fates of permanent and transient cartilage are determined. Previous studies demonstrated that chondrocytes isolated from permanent cartilage have the potential to express markers of the mature hypertrophic phenotype once grown in culture, suggesting that cell hypertrophy is an intrinsic property of all chondrocytes and must be actively silenced in permanent cartilage in vivo. These silencing mechanisms, however, are largely unknown. In this paper, we first review nature of chondrocytes in transient and permanent cartilages and then report the cloning and characterization of a novel variant of ets transcription factor chERG, hereafter called C-1-1, which might be involved in regulation of permanent cartilage development. Design: For cloning of a novel variant of chERG (C-1-1), we isolated RNA from the cartilaginous femur or tibiotarsus of Day 17 chick embryos and processed it for reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) with the primers from sequences upstream and downstream of the 81 and 72 bp segments alternatively-spliced in mammals. For investigation of function of chERG and C-1-1, we over-expressed chERG or C-1-1 in cultured chick chondrocytes or the developing limb of chick embryo using a retrovirus (RCAS) system, and examined the phenotype changes in the infected chondrocytes or the infected limb elements. Results: C-1-1 is an alternative and novel variant lacking the 27 amino acids segment of chERG that has been reported previously. C-1-1 is preferentially expressed in developing articular cartilage, whereas chERG is preferentially expressed in growth plate cartilage. Growth of articular chondrocytes in culture was accompanied by decreasing C-1-1 expression after several passages, while expression of hypertrophic markers increased. Expression of C-1-1 in cultured chondrocytes inhibited cell hypertrophy, alkaline phosphatase activity, and cartilage matrix mineralization. In contrast, over-expression of chERG promoted chondrocyte maturation and mineralization. Conclusion: Our data demonstrate for the first time that chERG and C-1-1 play distinct roles in skeletogenesis and may have crucial roles in the development and function of transient and permanent cartilages. © 2001 OsteoArthritis Research Society International.
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