A role for age-related changes in TGFbeta signaling in aberrant chondrocyte differentiation and osteoarthritis

Arthritis Res Ther. 2010;12(1):201. doi: 10.1186/ar2896. Epub 2010 Jan 29.


Transforming growth factor beta (TGFbeta) is a growth factor with many faces. In our osteoarthritis (OA) research we have found that TGFbeta can be protective as well as deleterious for articular cartilage. We postulate that the dual effects of TGFbeta on chondrocytes can be explained by the fact that TGFbeta can signal via different receptors and related Smad signaling routes. On chondrocytes, TGFbeta not only signals via the canonical type I receptor ALK5 but also via the ALK1 receptor. Notably, signaling via ALK5 (Smad2/3 route) results in markedly different chondrocyte responses than ALK1 signaling (Smad1/5/8), and we postulate that the balance between ALK5 and ALK1 expression on chondrocytes will determine the overall effect of TGFbeta on these cells. Importantly, signaling via ALK1, but not ALK5, stimulates MMP-13 expression by chondrocytes. In cartilage of ageing mice and in experimental OA models we have found that the ALK1/ALK5 ratio is significantly increased, favoring TGFbeta signaling via the Smad1/5/8 route, changes in chondrocyte differentiation and MMP-13 expression. Moreover, human OA cartilage showed a significant correlation between ALK1 and MMP-13 expression. In this paper we summarize concepts in OA, its link with ageing and disturbed growth factor responses, and a potential role of TGFbeta signaling in OA development.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Chondrocytes / cytology*
  • Chondrocytes / immunology
  • Chondrocytes / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Osteoarthritis / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / metabolism*


  • Transforming Growth Factor beta