During development, mRNA for matrix metalloproteinase-13 (MMP-13) is found associated with cartilage undergoing hypertrophy, suggesting that this collagenase plays a role in cell enlargement and/or cartilage calcification. Using chondrocytes from prehypertrophic cartilage of chick embryo sternae, we have examined the relationship between MMP-13 expression and the transition to hypertrophy. When hypertrophy was induced by serum-free culture with ascorbate and bone morphogenetic protein-2 (BMP-2), MMP-13 mRNA levels paralleled those for type X collagen. Chondrocytes from the caudal, nonhypertrophying portion of chick sternae expressed neither type X collagen nor MMP-13, confirming that MMP-13 mRNA is a marker for hypertrophy. Zymography with conditioned medium yielded a proteinase band at 59 kDa, which was absent in nonhypertrophic chondrocytes. A polyclonal antibody raised against chick MMP-13 reacted with the 59-kDa protein, confirming that it is MMP-13. Although mRNA for MMP-13 peaked at days 4-5 of culture, only low levels of MMP-13 activity were present, and the activity increased gradually in parallel with later increases in MMP-2. These results suggest that MMP-13 is activated by MMP-2 during chondrocyte maturation, and that the combination of both proteinases is required to prepare cartilage matrix for subsequent calcification, before endochondral ossification. (C) 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
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