The role of aggrecan in normal and osteoarthritic cartilage

J Exp Orthop. 2014 Dec;1(1):8. doi: 10.1186/s40634-014-0008-7. Epub 2014 Jul 16.


Aggrecan is a large proteoglycan bearing numerous chondroitin sulfate and keratan sulfate chains that endow articular cartilage with its ability to withstand compressive loads. It is present in the extracellular matrix in the form of proteoglycan aggregates, in which many aggrecan molecules interact with hyaluronan and a link protein stabilizes each interaction. Aggrecan structure is not constant throughout life, but changes due to both synthetic and degradative events. Changes due to synthesis alter the structure of the chondroitin sulfate and keratan sulfate chains, whereas those due to degradation cause cleavage of all components of the aggregate. These latter changes can be viewed as being detrimental to cartilage function and are enhanced in osteoarthritic cartilage, resulting in aggrecan depletion and predisposing to cartilage erosion. Matrix metalloproteinases and aggrecanases play a major role in aggrecan degradation and their production is upregulated by mediators associated with joint inflammation and overloading. The presence of increased levels of aggrecan fragments in synovial fluid has been used as a marker of ongoing cartilage destruction in osteoarthritis. During the early stages of osteoarthritis it may be possible to retard the destructive process by enhancing the production of aggrecan and inhibiting its degradation. Aggrecan production also plays a central role in cartilage repair techniques involving stem cell or chondrocyte implantation into lesions. Thus aggrecan participates in both the demise and survival of articular cartilage.

Keywords: Age changes; Aggrecan; Aggrecanase; Articular cartilage; Hyaluronan; Link protein; Matrix metalloproteinase; Osteoarthritis.