Activation of beta-catenin signaling in articular chondrocytes leads to osteoarthritis-like phenotype in adult beta-catenin conditional activation mice

J Bone Miner Res. 2009 Jan;24(1):12-21. doi: 10.1359/jbmr.080901.


Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint disease, and the mechanism of its pathogenesis is poorly understood. Recent human genetic association studies showed that mutations in the Frzb gene predispose patients to OA, suggesting that the Wnt/beta-catenin signaling may be the key pathway to the development of OA. However, direct genetic evidence for beta-catenin in this disease has not been reported. Because tissue-specific activation of the beta-catenin gene (targeted by Col2a1-Cre) is embryonic lethal, we specifically activated the beta-catenin gene in articular chondrocytes in adult mice by generating beta-catenin conditional activation (cAct) mice through breeding of beta-catenin(fx(Ex3)/fx(Ex3)) mice with Col2a1-CreER(T2) transgenic mice. Deletion of exon 3 of the beta-catenin gene results in the production of a stabilized fusion beta-catenin protein that is resistant to phosphorylation by GSK-3beta. In this study, tamoxifen was administered to the 3- and 6-mo-old Col2a1-CreER(T2);beta-catenin(fx(Ex3)/wt) mice, and tissues were harvested for histologic analysis 2 mo after tamoxifen induction. Overexpression of beta-catenin protein was detected by immunostaining in articular cartilage tissues of beta-catenin cAct mice. In 5-mo-old beta-catenin cAct mice, reduction of Safranin O and Alcian blue staining in articular cartilage tissue and reduced articular cartilage area were observed. In 8-mo-old beta-catenin cAct mice, cell cloning, surface fibrillation, vertical clefting, and chondrophyte/osteophyte formation were observed. Complete loss of articular cartilage layers and the formation of new woven bone in the subchondral bone area were also found in beta-catenin cAct mice. Expression of chondrocyte marker genes, such as aggrecan, Mmp-9, Mmp-13, Alp, Oc, and colX, was significantly increased (3- to 6-fold) in articular chondrocytes derived from beta-catenin cAct mice. Bmp2 but not Bmp4 expression was also significantly upregulated (6-fold increase) in these cells. In addition, we also observed overexpression of beta-catenin protein in the knee joint samples from patients with OA. These findings indicate that activation of beta-catenin signaling in articular chondrocytes in adult mice leads to the premature chondrocyte differentiation and the development of an OA-like phenotype. This study provides direct and definitive evidence about the role of beta-catenin in the development of OA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cartilage, Articular / metabolism
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chondrocytes / cytology*
  • Chondrocytes / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Models, Biological
  • Osteoarthritis / metabolism*
  • Phenotype
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / metabolism
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Tamoxifen / pharmacology
  • beta Catenin / metabolism*


  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • beta Catenin
  • Tamoxifen