Objective: Human chondrocytes produce different C-X-C and C-C chemokines under basal conditions and upon activation with proinflammatory cytokines. We investigated whether human chondrocytes also have chemokine receptors and examined the effects of chemokines on chondrocyte activity.
Methods: The expression of chemokine receptors was determined by immunochemical analysis of frozen sections from normal and osteoarthritic cartilage and by flow cytometry of isolated cells. The messenger RNA expression for chemokine receptors was studied by reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction. Isolated chondrocytes were stimulated with different chemokines, and the responses were evaluated by assaying the release of matrix metalloprotease 3 (MMP-3) and of the lysosomal enzyme N-acetyl-beta-D-glucosaminidase in the supernatants.
Results: A wide variety of chemokine receptors (CCR-1, CCR-2, CCR-3, CCR-5, CXCR-1, and CXCR-2) was detected on human chondrocytes. Interaction of these receptors with the corresponding ligands induced the release of MMP-3. This response was abrogated by pretreatment of the cells with Bordetella pertussis toxin, demonstrating involvement of G proteins of the Gi type. The response decreased in the presence of cycloheximide, indicating dependence on protein synthesis. Chemokines also induced the exocytosis of N-acetyl-beta-D-glucosaminidase, which was prevented by receptor blockage with anti-CCR-3 and by treatment with B pertussis toxin. Chondrocytes obtained from osteoarthritic tissue showed an increased expression of CCR-3 and possibly of CXCR-1, and an augmented release of matrix-degrading enzymes compared with chondrocytes from normal donors.
Conclusion: Our findings suggest the existence in human chondrocytes of a novel catabolic pathway, primed by chemokines and their receptors, that leads to the breakdown of cartilage matrix components.