Joint TGF-β type II receptor-expressing cells: ontogeny and characterization as joint progenitors

Stem Cells Dev. 2013 May 1;22(9):1342-59. doi: 10.1089/scd.2012.0207. Epub 2013 Feb 15.


TGF-β type II receptor (Tgfbr2) signaling plays an essential role in joint-element development. The Tgfbr2(PRX-1KO) mouse, in which the Tgfbr2 is conditionally inactivated in developing limbs, lacks interphalangeal joints and tendons. In this study, we used the Tgfbr2-β-Gal-GFP-BAC mouse as a LacZ/green fluorescent protein (GFP)-based read-out to determine: the spatial and temporally regulated expression pattern of Tgfbr2-expressing cells within joint elements; their expression profile; and their slow-cycling labeling with bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU). Tgfbr2-β-Gal activity was first detected at embryonic day (E) 13.5 within the interphalangeal joint interzone. By E16.5, and throughout adulthood, Tgfbr2-expressing cells clustered in a contiguous niche that comprises the groove of Ranvier and the synovio-entheseal complex including part of the perichondrium, the synovium, the articular cartilage superficial layer, and the tendon's entheses. Tgfbr2-expressing cells were found in the synovio-entheseal complex niche with similar temporal pattern in the knee, where they were also detected in meniscal surface, ligaments, and the synovial lining of the infrapatellar fat pad. Tgfbr2-β-Gal-positive cells were positive for phospho-Smad2, signifying that the Tgfbr2 reporter was accurate. Developmental-stage studies showed that Tgfbr2 expression was in synchrony with expression of joint-morphogenic genes such as Noggin, GDF5, Notch1, and Jagged1. Prenatal and postnatal BrdU-incorporation studies showed that within this synovio-entheseal-articular-cartilage niche most of the Tgfbr2-expressing cells labeled as slow-proliferating cells, namely, stem/progenitor cells. Tgfbr2-positive cells, isolated from embryonic limb mesenchyme, expressed joint progenitor markers in a time- and TGF-β-dependent manner. Our studies provide evidence that joint Tgfbr2-expressing cells have anatomical, ontogenic, slow-cycling trait and in-vivo and ex-vivo expression profiles of progenitor joint cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, Differentiation / metabolism
  • Cartilage, Articular / metabolism
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Female
  • Foot Joints / cytology
  • Foot Joints / metabolism*
  • Forelimb / cytology
  • Forelimb / metabolism
  • Gene Expression
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Receptor, Transforming Growth Factor-beta Type II
  • Receptors, Transforming Growth Factor beta / genetics
  • Receptors, Transforming Growth Factor beta / metabolism*
  • Stem Cell Niche
  • Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Synovial Membrane / metabolism


  • Antigens, Differentiation
  • Receptors, Transforming Growth Factor beta
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Receptor, Transforming Growth Factor-beta Type II