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S F Ahmed and C Farquharson

Circulating signalling proteins have often been divided into hormones and cytokines, but it is increasingly being recognised that these substances have a number of common characteristics and mechanisms of action. This is clearly illustrated by the suppressor of cytokine signalling (SOCS) proteins which are increasingly seen as a central component of the regulation of the action of hormones and cytokines that signal through the cytokine receptor complex. The SOCS protein family is probably more extensive than currently recognised; its members may have differential tissue expression and their potency for suppressing cytokine signalling may vary. Recent knockout and transgenic studies in mice have highlighted the role that these proteins play in growth and skeletal development as well as in inflammation. Chronic inflammation is associated with altered growth and skeletal development, and it is possible that SOCS proteins may have an important role to play in mediating these effects.

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C Farquharson, J S Rennie, N Loveridge and C C Whitehead


1,25-Dihydroxyvitamin D3 (1,25(OH)2D3) is regarded as the most biologically active metabolite of cholecalciferol. It prevents tibial dyschondroplasia (TD) in chicks where inhibition of chondrocyte differentiation within the growth plate occurs. However, it is unclear whether its mode of action is through direct interaction with its chondrocyte receptor and its known regulatory role in cell differentiation or is mediated by increased calcium absorption and mobilisation. Synthetic analogues of 1,25(OH)2D3 such as 1,25-dihydroxy-16-ene-23-yne cholecalciferol (RO 23–7553) with increased differentiation properties but reduced calcaemic activity have been synthesised. In this study, the in vitro and in vivo effects of 1,25(OH)2D3 and RO 23–7553 on chick chondrocyte growth and differentiation were examined. In addition, the in vivo effectiveness of these steroids in preventing TD in chicks was assessed. 1,25(OH)2D3 and RO 23–7553 (10−12-10−7 m) displayed biphasic concentration effects and had similar potencies in vitro in regulating chondrocyte proliferation and differentiation. However, while the incidence of TD in birds dosed with 1,25(OH)2D3 was lower (10%) than in control chicks (55%), RO 23–7553 was ineffective (50%). This may be the result of its reduced affinity (1000 times less) for the plasma vitamin D binding protein (DBP) and the chondrocyte receptor in comparison to that of 1,25(OH)2D3. A reduction in calcium supply to the chondrocyte may also result in decreased chondrocyte differentiation but blood ionised and plasma total calcium were normal in birds dosed with RO 23–7553. These data suggest that RO 23–7553 and 1,25(OH)2D3 regulate chondrocyte proliferation and differentiation similarly in vitro but not in vivo. This may be caused by differences in DBP binding and clearance rates of the two steroids in vivo.

Journal of Endocrinology (1996) 148, 465–474

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V E MacRae, T Burdon, S F Ahmed and C Farquharson

Proinflammatory cytokines inhibit growth plate development. However, their underlying mechanisms of action are unclear. These effects may be mediated by ceramide, a sphingosine-based lipid second messenger, which is elevated in a number of chronic inflammatory diseases. To test this hypothesis, we determined the effects of C2-ceramide, a cell permeable ceramide analogue, on the growth of the ATDC5 chondrogenic cell line and on cultured fetal mice metatarsals. In ATDC5 cells, C2-ceramide significantly induced apoptosis at both 40 (82%; P < 0.05) and 25 μM (53%; P < 0.05). At 40 μM, C2-ceramide significantly reduced proliferation ([3H]-thymidine uptake/mg protein) (62%; P < 0.05). C2-ceramide did not markedly alter the differentiation state of the cells as judged by the expression of markers of chondrogenesis and differentiation (sox 9, collagen II and collagen X). The IGF-I signalling pathway is the major autocrine/paracrine regulator of bone growth. Both in the presence and absence of IGF-I, C2-ceramide (25 μM) induced an equivalent reduction in proliferation (60%; P < 0.001). Similarly, C2-ceramide (40 μM) induced a 31% reduction in fetal metatarsal growth both in the presence and absence of IGF-I (both P < 0.001). Furthermore, C2-ceramide reduced ADCT5 proliferation in the presence of AG1024, an IGF-I and insulin receptor blocker. Therefore, C2-ceramide-dependent inhibition appears to be independent of IGF-mediated stimulation of bone growth. Indeed, biochemical studies demonstrated that C2-ceramide (25 μM) pretreatment did not alter IGF-I-stimulated phosphorylation of insulin receptor substrate-1, Akt or P44/42 MAP kinase. In conclusion, C2-ceramide inhibits proliferation and induces apoptosis in growth plate chondrocytes through an IGF-I independent mechanism.

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V E MacRae, C Farquharson and S F Ahmed

Childhood chronic inflammatory disease can be associated with transient and permanent growth retardation. This study examined the potential for spontaneous growth recovery following pro-inflammatory cytokine exposure. Murine ATDC5 chondrogenic cells and postnatal metatarsals were exposed to interleukin (IL)-1β, IL-6 and tumour necrosis factor-α (TNFα), and their growth and proliferative capacity were determined following recovery. TNFα and IL-1β reduced chondrocyte proliferation and aggrecan and collagen types II and X expression at minimum concentrations of 10 ng/ml and 0.1 ng/ml respectively. TNFα but not IL-1β exposure led to increased caspase-3 activity and altered cellular morphology, consistent with reduced viability. Cytokine exposure particularly inhibited proteoglycan synthesis. This effect was dose and duration dependent. Compared with the control, IL-1β and TNFα led to a 71% and 45% reduction in metatarsal growth after 8 days of exposure respectively (P < 0.05). An additive effect of IL-1β combined with TNFα was observed (110% decrease; P < 0.05). Metatarsals exposed to IL-1β or TNFα individually for a 2-day period, and allowed to recover spontaneously in the absence of cytokines for a further 6 days, showed normal growth trajectories. In combination, growth was 59% lower (P < 0.01) compared with control metatarsals at the end of the recovery period. Exposure to the combination for 4 days followed by a 4-day recovery period resulted in 87% decrement compared with controls (P < 0.05). IL-6 did not alter any parameter studied. IL-1β and TNFα exert diverse inhibitory effects on ATDC5 chondrocyte dynamics and metatarsal growth. The extent of recovery following cytokine exposure depends on the duration of exposure, and may be incomplete following longer periods of exposure.

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K J Oldknow, V E MacRae and C Farquharson

Recent developments in endocrinology, made possible by the combination of mouse genetics, integrative physiology and clinical observations have resulted in rapid and unanticipated advances in the field of skeletal biology. Indeed, the skeleton, classically viewed as a structural scaffold necessary for mobility, and regulator of calcium–phosphorus homoeostasis and maintenance of the haematopoietic niche has now been identified as an important regulator of male fertility and whole-body glucose metabolism, in addition to the classical insulin target tissues. These seminal findings confirm bone to be a true endocrine organ. This review is intended to detail the key events commencing from the elucidation of osteocalcin (OC) in bone metabolism to identification of new and emerging candidates that may regulate energy metabolism independently of OC.

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T Mushtaq, C Farquharson, E Seawright and SF Ahmed

Glucocorticoids (GC) are used extensively in children and may cause growth retardation, which is in part due to the direct effects of GC on the growth plate. We characterised the ATDC5 chondrocyte cell line, which mimics the in vivo process of longitudinal bone growth, to examine the effects of dexamethasone (Dex) and prednisolone (Pred) during two key time points in the chondrocyte life cycle - chondrogenesis and terminal differentiation. Additionally, we studied the potential for recovery following Dex exposure. During chondrogenesis, Dex and Pred exposure at 10(-8) M, 10(-7) M and 10(-6) M resulted in a significant mean reduction in cell number (28% vs 20%), cell proliferation (27% vs 24%) and proteoglycan synthesis (47% vs 43%) and increased alkaline phosphatase (ALP) activity (106% vs 62%), whereas the incidence of apoptosis was unaltered. Minimal effects were noted during terminal differentiation with both GC although all concentrations of Dex lowered apoptotic cell number. To assess catch-up growth the cells were incubated for a total of 14 days which included 1, 3, 7, 10 or 14 days exposure to 10(-6) M Dex, prior to the recovery period. Recovery of proteoglycan synthesis was irreversibly impaired following just one day exposure to Dex. Although cell number showed a similar pattern, significant impairment was only achieved following 14 days exposure. Irreversible changes in ALP activity were only noticed following 10 days exposure to Dex. In conclusion, GC have maximal effects during chondrogenesis; Dex is more potent than Pred and cells exposed to Dex recover but this may be restricted due to differential effects of GC on specific chondrocyte phenotypes.

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C Farquharson, A S Law, E Seawright, D W Burt and C C Whitehead


1,25-Dihydroxyvitamin D3 (1,25(OH)2D3) and transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) are both important regulators of chondrocyte growth and differentiation. We report here that 1,25(OH)2D3 differentially regulates the expression of the genes for TGF-β1 to -β3 and the secretion of the corresponding proteins in cultured chick chondrocytes. Confluent growth plate chondrocytes were serum-deprived and cultured in varying concentrations of 1,25(OH)2D3. Cells were assayed for TGF-β mRNA and conditioned medium was assayed for TGF-β activity and isoform composition. Active TGF-β was only detected in 10−8 m 1,25(OH)2D3-treated cultures (8·37 ng active TGF-β/mg protein). There was a significant decrease in total (latent+active) TGF-β activity in conditioned medium of 10−12 m (23·4%; P<0·05) and 10−10 m (20·7%; P<0·05) 1,25(OH)2D3-treated cultures but 10−8 m 1,25(OH)2D3 significantly increased (30·9%; P<0·01) TGF-β activity. The amounts of TGF-β1, -β2 and -β3 isoforms produced were similar in control, 10−10 or 10−12 m 1,25(OH)2D3-treated cultures but the conditioned medium of 10−8 m 1,25(OH)2D3-treated cultures contained significantly higher amounts of all three isoforms. Quantification of TGF-β mRNA demonstrated differential control of TGF-β gene expression with TGF-β1 and -β3 mRNA levels reduced by all concentrations of 1,25(OH)2D3 examined (10−8, 10−10 and 10−12 m) whilst TGF-β2 mRNA concentrations were elevated. Our results indicated that 1,25(OH)2D3 regulates chick growth plate chondrocyte TGF-β secretion and mRNA expression in a concentration-dependent and isoform-specific manner. This interaction may be important in the regulation of chondrocyte metabolism and endochondral bone growth.

Journal of Endocrinology (1996) 149, 277–285

Open access

R Dobie, V E MacRae, C Huesa, R van't Hof, S F Ahmed and C Farquharson

The suppressor of cytokine signalling (Socs2 −/−)-knockout mouse is characterised by an overgrowth phenotype due to enhanced GH signalling. The objective of this study was to define the Socs2 −/− bone phenotype and determine whether GH promotes bone mass via IGF1-dependent mechanisms. Despite no elevation in systemic IGF1 levels, increased body weight in 4-week-old Socs2 −/− mice following GH treatment was associated with increased cortical bone area (Ct.Ar) (P<0.01). Furthermore, detailed bone analysis of male and female juvenile and adult Socs2 −/− mice revealed an altered cortical and trabecular phenotype consistent with the known anabolic effects of GH. Indeed, male Socs2 −/− mice had increased Ct.Ar (P<0.05) and thickness associated with increased strength. Despite this, there was no elevation in hepatic Igf1 expression, suggesting that the anabolic bone phenotype was the result of increased local GH action. Mechanistic studies showed that in osteoblasts and bone of Socs2 −/− mice, STAT5 phosphorylation was significantly increased in response to GH. Conversely, overexpression of SOCS2 decreased GH-induced STAT5 signalling. Although an increase in Igf1 expression was observed in Socs2 −/− osteoblasts following GH, it was not evident in vivo. Igf1 expression levels were not elevated in response to GH in 4-week-old mice and no alterations in expression was observed in bone samples of 6-week-old Socs2 −/− mice. These studies emphasise the critical role of SOCS2 in controlling the local GH anabolic bone effects. We provide compelling evidence implicating SOCS2 in the regulation of GH osteoblast signalling and ultimately bone accrual, which maybe via mechanisms that are independent of IGF1 production in vivo.

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N Loveridge, C Farquharson, R Palmer, G E Lobley and D J Flint


The control of longitudinal growth is poorly understood but GH is considered to be one of the major hormones regulating postnatal growth. However, there is dispute as to whether it has a direct or indirect action. To study the role of GH we used a polyclonal antiserum to rat GH and investigated changes in cell proliferation and enzyme activities associated with bone formation and resorption during longitudinal growth. IGF-I levels were measured by two independent RIAs, DNA synthesis by bromodeoxyuridine incorporation followed by immunocytochemistry and enzyme activities were quantified in situ by microdensitometry.

After 1 day the percentage of chondrocytes undergoing DNA synthesis within the proliferative zone was reduced but no other parameters were affected. By day 4 the labelling index was the same as in pair-fed animals but the number of chondrocytes synthesising DNA was reduced as was the total width of the growth plate and that of the proliferative zone. Alkaline phosphatase (associated with mineralisation) was unchanged but glucose 6-phosphate dehydrogenase activity (associated with cell proliferation) was decreased. Osteoclastic tartrate-resistant acid phosphatase activity (associated with bone resorption) was also significantly reduced. Similar changes were apparent after 10 days. At no time was the circulating level of IGF-I decreased.

These data suggest that, during longitudinal growth, GH affects the number of proliferating chondrocytes but not the percentage of cells undergoing DNA synthesis, indicating that its primary role may be on the commitment of prechondrocytes to a proliferative state. Furthermore, while GH does not seem to have any effect on skeletal mineralisation it may stimulate osteoclastic resorption of the primary spongiosa.

Journal of Endocrinology (1995) 146, 55–62