Objective: Transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) plays a critical role in cartilage homeostasis and deregulation of its signalling is implicated in osteoarthritis (OA). TGF-β isoforms signal through a pair of transmembrane serine/threonine kinases known as the type I and type II TGF-β receptors. Endoglin is a TGF-β co-receptor that binds TGF-β with high affinity in the presence of the type II TGF-β receptor. We have previously shown that endoglin is expressed in human chondrocytes and that it forms a complex with the TGF-β signalling receptors. However, the functional significance of endoglin expression in chondrocytes is unknown. Our objective was to determine whether endoglin regulates TGF-β/Smad signalling and extracellular matrix (ECM) production in human chondrocytes and whether its expression varies with chondrocyte differentiation state.
Method: Endoglin function was determined by overexpression or antisense morpholino/siRNA knockdown of endoglin in human chondrocytes and measuring TGF-β-induced Smad phosphorylation, transcriptional activity and ECM production. Alterations in endoglin expression levels were determined during subculture-induced dedifferentiation of human chondrocytes and in normal vs OA cartilage samples.
Results: Endoglin enhances TGF-β1-induced Smad1/5 phosphorylation and inhibits TGF-β1-induced Smad2 phosphorylation, Smad3-driven transcriptional activity and ECM production in human chondrocytes. In addition, the enhancing effect of endoglin siRNA knockdown on TGF-β1-induced Smad3-driven transcription is reversed by ALK1 overexpression. Furthermore, endoglin levels are increased in chondrocytes following subculture-induced dedifferentiation and in OA cartilage as compared to normal cartilage.
Conclusion: Together, our results suggest that endoglin regulates the balance between TGF-β/ALK1/Smad1/5 and ALK5/Smad2/3 signalling and ECM production in human chondrocytes and that endoglin may represent a marker for chondrocyte phenotype.
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