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OBJECTIVE: Aggrecan enables articular cartilage to bear load and resist compression. Aggrecan loss occurs early in osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis and can be induced by inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin-1 (IL-1). IL-1 induces cleavage of specific aggrecans characteristic of the ADAMTS proteinases. The aim of this study was to identify the intracellular signaling pathways by which IL-1 causes aggrecan degradation by human chondrocytes and to investigate how aggrecanase activity is controlled by chondrocytes. METHODS: We developed a cell-based assay combining small interfering RNA (siRNA)-induced knockdown with aggrecan degradation assays. Human articular chondrocytes were overlaid with bovine aggrecan after transfection with siRNAs against molecules of the IL-1 signaling pathway. After IL-1 stimulation, released aggrecan fragments were detected with AGEG and ARGS neoepitope antibodies. Aggrecanase activity and tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases 3 levels were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein 1 (LRP-1) shedding was analyzed by Western blotting. RESULTS: ADAMTS-5 is a major aggrecanase in human chondrocytes, regulating aggrecan degradation in response to IL-1. The tumor necrosis factor receptor-associated 6 (TRAF-6)/transforming growth factor β-activated kinase 1 (TAK-1)/MKK-4 signaling axis is essential for IL-1-induced aggrecan degradation, while NF-κB is not. Of the 3 MAPKs (ERK, p38, and JNK), only JNK-2 showed a significant role in aggrecan degradation. Chondrocytes constitutively secreted aggrecanase, which was continuously endocytosed by LRP-1, keeping the extracellular level of aggrecanase low. IL-1 induced aggrecanase activity in the medium in a JNK-2-dependent manner, possibly by reducing aggrecanase endocytosis, because IL-1 caused JNK-2-dependent shedding of LRP-1. CONCLUSION: The signaling axis TRAF-6/TAK-1/MKK-4/JNK-2 mediates IL-1-induced aggrecanolysis. The level of aggrecanase is controlled by its endocytosis, which may be reduced upon IL-1 stimulation because of LRP-1 shedding.

Original publication




Journal article


Arthritis rheumatol

Publication Date





1826 - 1836


ADAM Proteins, ADAMTS5 Protein, Aggrecans, Cells, Cultured, Chondrocytes, Humans, Interleukin-1, Low Density Lipoprotein Receptor-Related Protein-1, MAP Kinase Kinase 4, MAP Kinase Kinase 7, MAP Kinase Kinase Kinases, RNA, Small Interfering, Signal Transduction, TNF Receptor-Associated Factor 6