Runx1, the hematopoietic lineage determining transcription factor, is present in perichondrium and chondrocytes. Here we addressed Runx1 functions, by examining expression in cartilage during mouse and human osteoarthritis (OA) progression and in response to mechanical loading. Spared and diseased compartments in knees of OA patients and in mice with surgical destabilization of the medial meniscus were examined for changes in expression of Runx1 mRNA (Q-PCR) and protein (immunoblot, immunohistochemistry). Runx1 levels were quantified in response to static mechanical compression of bovine articular cartilage. Runx1 function was assessed by cell proliferation (Ki67, PCNA) and cell type phenotypic markers. Runx1 is enriched in superficial zone (SZ) chondrocytes of normal bovine, mouse, and human tissues. Increasing loading conditions in bovine cartilage revealed a positive correlation with a significant elevation of Runx1. Runx1 becomes highly expressed at the periphery of mouse OA lesions and in human OA chondrocyte 'clones' where Runx1 co-localizes with Vcam1, the mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) marker and lubricin (Prg4), a cartilage chondroprotective protein. These OA induced cells represent a proliferative cell population, Runx1 depletion in MPCs decreases cell growth, supporting Runx1 contribution to cell expansion. The highest Runx1 levels in SZC of normal cartilage suggest a function that supports the unique phenotype of articular chondrocytes, reflected by upregulation under conditions of compression. We propose Runx1 co-expression with Vcam1 and lubricin in murine cell clusters and human 'clones' of OA cartilage, participate in a cooperative mechanism for a compensatory anabolic function.
© 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.