Calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II in human articular chondrocytes

Biorheology. 2006;43(3,4):223-33.


Mechanical stimuli are known to have major influences on chondrocyte function. The molecular events that regulate chondrocyte responses to mechanical stimulation have been the subject of much study. Using an in vitro experimental system we have identified mechanotransduction pathways that control molecular and biochemical responses of human articular chondrocytes to cyclical mechanical stimulation, and how these responses differ in cells isolated from diseased cartilage. We have previously shown that mechanical stimulation of normal articular chondrocytes leads to a cell membrane hyperpolarisation. Within 1 hour following mechanical stimulation there is an increase in aggrecan mRNA levels. These responses are mediated via alpha5beta1 integrins, the neuropeptides substance P and NMDA, and the cytokine interleukin-4. In OA chondrocytes mechanical stimulation leads to cell membrane depolarisation, but no change in aggrecan mRNA at 1 hour. The depolarisation response is mediated via alpha5beta1 integrins, substance P and interleukin-4, but the cells show an altered response to NMDA. Having identified that the NMDA receptor is present in human articular cartilage and may play an important role in a chondroprotective mechanotransduction pathway, we were interested in whether other components associated with NMDA signalling may be involved in the chondrocyte mechanotransduction pathways. One such component is calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II (CaMKII). CaMKII mediates many cellular responses to elevated Ca2+ in a wide variety of cells and tissues. It is involved in the regulation of ion channels, cytoskeletal dynamics, gene transcription, neurotransmitter synthesis, insulin secretion, and cell division. CaMKII also shows a broad substrate specificity and is abundant in brain tissue, indicating that this kinase may play a number of roles in the functioning of the central nervous system. This kinase has been studied extensively in brain, but there is only a limited understanding of CaMKII in other tissues. CAMKII has four subunit isoforms (alpha,beta,gamma,delta). The alpha- and beta-isoforms have narrow distributions restricted mainly to neuronal tissues, but the gamma- and delta-isoforms are ubiquitously expressed within neuronal and non-neuronal tissues. The aim of this study was to investigate the expression of CaMKII in normal and OA cartilage and chondrocytes, and whether this enzyme is involved in the response of chondrocytes to cyclical mechanical stimuli. Reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), using primers specific for the different CaMKII isoforms, was carried out to assess which isoforms are expressed in human articular chondrocytes. To assess whether CaMKII is expressed in human articular chondrocytes at the protein level, cultured chondrocytes were extracted and analysed by Western blotting using a pan-CaMKII antibody. Immunohistochemistry was carried out to investigate whether CaMKII is expressed by human articular chondrocytes in vivo. Frozen sections of normal, OA and ankle cartilage were incubated for one hour with CaMKII antibody and visualised using ABC and DAB. To assess the role of CaMKII in the mechanotransduction responses of normal and OA chondrocytes, human normal and OA articular chondrocytes were mechanically stimulated at 0.33 Hz, or by addition of recombinant IL-4 for 20 minutes. Cell responses to these stimuli, in the absence or presence of an inhibitor of CaMKII were assessed by measuring changes in cell membrane potential or changes in relative levels of aggrecan mRNA compared with the housekeeping gene GAPDH. Normal, OA, and ankle chondrocytes expressed the gamma and delta isoforms of CaMKII mRNA, but not the alpha and beta isoforms as demonstrated by RT-PCR. Western blotting showed a band at approximately 60 kDa consistent with the expression of CaMKII. Immunohistochemistry revealed the positive staining in the middle and deep zones, but not the superficial zone, of normal, OA, and ankle cartilage. The presence of a CaMKII inhibitor inhibits the membrane hyperpolarisation response and upregulation of aggrecan mRNA in normal chondrocytes following mechanical stimulation, but has no effect on the hyperpolarisation response to recombinant IL4. The depolarisation response of OA chondrocytes to mechanical stimulation is unaffected by the presence of the CaMKII inhibitor. The CaMKII isoforms gamma and delta are expressed in both normal and OA chondrocytes, both in vitro and in vivo, but are only involved in the response of normal chondrocytes to mechanical stimulation. This response is upstream of the effect of IL4. These findings are consistent with previous findings for the NMDA receptor, and suggest that dysregulation of NMDA-CaMKII signalling may be important in onset and progression of osteoarthritis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aggrecans
  • Blotting, Western / methods
  • Calcium-Calmodulin-Dependent Protein Kinase Type 2
  • Calcium-Calmodulin-Dependent Protein Kinases / physiology*
  • Cartilage, Articular / cytology
  • Cartilage, Articular / enzymology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chondrocytes / enzymology
  • Chondrocytes / physiology*
  • Chondroitin Sulfate Proteoglycans / biosynthesis
  • Chondroitin Sulfate Proteoglycans / genetics
  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins / genetics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lectins, C-Type / biosynthesis
  • Lectins, C-Type / genetics
  • Male
  • Mechanotransduction, Cellular / physiology*
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteoarthritis / enzymology*
  • Osteoarthritis / pathology
  • Osteoarthritis / physiopathology
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods
  • Stress, Mechanical
  • Up-Regulation


  • Aggrecans
  • Chondroitin Sulfate Proteoglycans
  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins
  • Lectins, C-Type
  • Calcium-Calmodulin-Dependent Protein Kinase Type 2
  • Calcium-Calmodulin-Dependent Protein Kinases