Objective: To identify mechanisms by which Smad3 maintains articular cartilage and prevents osteoarthritis.
Methods: A combination of in vivo and in vitro approaches was used to test the hypothesis that Smad3 represses Runx2-inducible gene expression to prevent articular cartilage degeneration. Col2-Cre;Smad3(fl/fl) mice allowed study of the chondrocyte-intrinsic role of Smad3 independently of its role in the perichondrium or other tissues. Primary articular cartilage chondrocytes from Smad3(fl/fl) mice and ATDC5 chondroprogenitor cells were used to evaluate Smad3 and Runx2 regulation of matrix metalloproteinase 13 (MMP-13) messenger RNA (mRNA) and protein expression.
Results: Chondrocyte-specific reduction of Smad3 caused progressive articular cartilage degeneration due to imbalanced cartilage matrix synthesis and degradation. In addition to reduced type II collagen mRNA expression, articular cartilage from Col2-Cre;Smad3(fl/fl) mice was severely deficient in type II collagen and aggrecan protein due to excessive MMP-13-mediated proteolysis of these key cartilage matrix constituents. Normally, transforming growth factor β (TGFβ) signals through Smad3 to confer a rapid and dynamic repression of Runx2-inducible MMP-13 expression. However, we found that in the absence of Smad3, TGFβ signals through p38 and Runx2 to induce MMP-13 expression.
Conclusion: Our findings elucidate a mechanism by which Smad3 mutations in humans and mice cause cartilage degeneration and osteoarthritis. Specifically, Smad3 maintains the balance between cartilage matrix synthesis and degradation by inducing type II collagen expression and repressing Runx2-inducible MMP-13 expression. Selective activation of TGFβ signaling through Smad3, rather than p38, may help to restore the balance between matrix synthesis and proteolysis that is lost in osteoarthritis.
Copyright © 2012 by the American College of Rheumatology.