High resistance of the mechanical properties of the chondrocyte pericellular matrix to proteoglycan digestion by chondroitinase, aggrecanase, or hyaluronidase.
In articular cartilage, the extracellular matrix (ECM) and chondrocyte-associated pericellular matrix (PCM) are characterized by a high concentration of proteoglycans (PGs) and their associated glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). These molecules serve important biochemical, structural, and biomechanical roles in the tissue and differences in their regional distributions suggest that different GAG/PG species contribute to the specific biomechanical properties of the ECM and PCM. The objective of this study was to investigate region-specific contributions of aggrecan, chondroitin and dermatan sulfate, and hyaluronan to the micromechanical properties of articular cartilage PCM and ECM in situ. Cryosections of porcine cartilage underwent digestion with ADAMTS-4, chondroitinase ABC, bacterial hyaluronidase or human leukocyte elastase. Guided by immunofluorescence for type VI collagen, AFM stiffness mapping was used to evaluate the elastic properties of matched PCM and ECM regions in paired control and digested cartilage sections. These methods were used to test the hypotheses that specific enzymatic digestion of GAGs or PGs would reduce both PCM and ECM elastic moduli. Elastase, which digests a number of PGs, some types of collagen, and non-collagenous proteins, was used as a positive control. ECM elastic moduli were significantly reduced by all enzyme treatments. However, PCM micromechanical properties were unaffected by enzymatic digestion of aggrecan, chondroitin/dermatan sulfate, and hyaluronan but were significantly reduced by 24% following elastase digestion. Our results provide new evidence for high resistance of PCM micromechanical properties to PG digestion and suggest a potential role for elastase in the degradation of the ECM and PCM.
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