Objective: Two major cleavage sites, one mediated by metalloproteinases (MMPs) and the other by an as-yet unidentified enzyme termed aggrecanase, have been observed in aggrecan. To learn more about the relative contribution of these enzymes during cartilage degradation, this study assessed the occurrence of both specific neoepitopes in cartilage during murine arthritis and examined the correlation between neoepitope formation and different aspects of cartilage damage.
Methods: Reversible cartilage damage was induced in mice in the zymosan-induced arthritis (ZIA) model, partly irreversible cartilage damage in the antigen-induced arthritis (AIA) model, and irreversible, destructive cartilage damage in the collagen-induced arthritis (CIA) model. Immunolocalization techniques were used to detect the specific C-terminal neoepitopes VDIPEN (MMPS) and NITEGE (aggrecanase).
Results: In normal cartilage from young adult mice, no VDIPEN epitopes were detected, but a limited amount of NITEGE epitopes were already present. During the early phase of proteoglycan (PG) depletion, NITEGE expression was raised substantially in all arthritis models. VDIPEN epitopes were not detected in this early phase of cartilage destruction. When PG depletion progressed toward advanced cartilage damage, VDIPEN epitopes were induced. During ZIA, minimal induction of VDIPEN was observed, whereas in AIA, strong, but partly reversible, VDIPEN staining was evident, and in CIA, an extensive presence and persistence of the MMP-induced neoepitope was seen. When VDIPEN epitopes were intensely present, NITEGE epitopes were greatly reduced at that site in the cartilage.
Conclusion: Presence of VDIPEN epitopes in cartilage correlated with severe cartilage damage, but these epitopes were not detected during early PG degradation. This suggests a limited role for VDIPEN-inducing MMPs in early PG degradation during murine arthritis. In contrast, aggrecanase epitopes were induced before the appearance of VDIPEN epitopes, but they disappeared with progression of cartilage damage.