Retinoids have long been known to influence skeletogenesis but the specific roles played by these effectors and their nuclear receptors remain unclear. Thus, it is not known whether endogenous retinoids are present in developing skeletal elements, whether expression of the retinoic acid receptor (RAR) genes alpha, beta, and gamma changes during chondrocyte maturation, or how interference with retinoid signaling affects skeletogenesis. We found that immature chondrocytes present in stage 27 (Day 5.5) chick embryo humerus exhibited low and diffuse expression of RARalpha and gamma, while RARbeta expression was strong in perichondrium. Emergence of hypertrophic chondrocytes in Day 8-10 embryo limbs was accompanied by a marked and selective up-regulation of RARgamma gene expression. The RARgamma-rich type X collagen-expressing hypertrophic chondrocytes lay below metaphyseal prehypertrophic chondrocytes expressing Indian hedgehog (Ihh) and were followed by mineralizing chondrocytes undergoing endochondral ossification. Bioassays revealed that cartilaginous elements in Day 5.5, 8.5, and 10 chick embryo limbs all contained endogenous retinoids; strikingly, the perichondrial tissues surrounding the cartilages contained very large amounts of retinoids. Implantation of beads filled with retinoid antagonist Ro 41-5253 or AGN 193109 near the humeral anlagens in stage 21 (Day 3.5) or stage 27 chick embryos severely affected humerus development. In comparison to their normal counterparts, antagonist-treated humeri in Day 8.5-10 chick embryos were significantly shorter and abnormally bent; their diaphyseal chondrocytes had remained prehypertrophic Ihh-expressing cells, did not express RARgamma, and were not undergoing endochondral ossification. Interestingly, formation of an intramembranous bony collar around the diaphysis was not affected by antagonist treatment. Using chondrocyte cultures, we found that the antagonists effectively interfered with the ability of all-trans-retinoic acid to induce terminal cell maturation. The results provide clear evidence that retinoid-dependent and RAR-mediated mechanisms are required for completion of the chondrocyte maturation process and endochondral ossification in the developing limb. These mechanisms may be positively influenced by cooperative interactions between the chondrocytes and their retinoid-rich perichondrial tissues.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.