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D Chrysis, BM Moats-Staats and LE Underwood

The insulin receptor-related receptor (IRR), a member of the insulin receptor tyrosine kinase family, has structural homology to the insulin receptor (IR) and the IGF-I receptor (IGF-IR). The ligand, gene regulation and biological function of the IRR are not known. Because mRNAs for both the IR and IGF-IR are increased by nutrient restriction, we used RNase protection assays to assess the effects of fasting 48 h on IRR mRNA in kidneys of rats. We compared the changes in IRR with those in IR and IGF-IR mRNAs. We observed a significant increase in steady state levels of IRR (ratio of IRR mRNA to beta-actin in fed P<0.01), suggesting that the ligand for IRR also might be regulated by nutrients.

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D Chrysis, EM Ritzen and L Savendahl

Glucocorticoids cause significant growth retardation in mammals and humans and decreased proliferation of chondrocytes has been considered as the main local mechanism. Death by apoptosis is an important regulator of homeostasis in multicellular organisms. Here we chose to study the role of apoptosis in growth retardation caused by glucocorticoid treatment. We treated 7-week-old male rats with dexamethasone (5 mg/kg/day) for 7 days. Apoptosis was studied in tibiae growth plates by the TUNEL method. Immunoreactivity for parathyroid hormone-related peptide (PTHrP), caspase-3, and the anti-apoptotic proteins Bcl-2 and Bcl-x was also studied. Apoptosis was mainly localized in terminal hypertropic chondrocytes (THCs) in both control and dexamethasone-treated animals. Dexamethasone caused an increase in apoptosis which was fourfold in THCs (2.45+/-0.12 vs 0.62+/-0.09 apoptotic cells/mm growth plate, P<0.001), and 18-fold in proliferative chondrocytes (0.18+/-0.04 vs 0.01+/-0.007 apoptotic cells/mm growth plate, P<0.001). Increased apoptosis after dexamethasone treatment was accompanied by increased immunoreactivity for caspase-3 and decreased immunoreactivity for the anti-apoptotic proteins Bcl-2 and Bcl-x, which further supports our apoptosis results. Dexamethasone also decreased the immunoreactivity for PTHrP, suggesting a role in the mechanism by which glucocorticoids induce apoptosis in the growth plate. We conclude that apoptosis is one mechanism involved in growth retardation induced by glucocorticoids. Premature loss of resting/proliferative chondrocytes by apoptosis could contribute to incomplete catch-up seen after prolonged glucocorticoid treatment.

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A S Chagin, D Chrysis, M Takigawa, E M Ritzen and L Sävendahl

The importance of estrogens for the regulation of longitudinal bone growth is unequivocal. However, any local effect of estrogens in growth plate cartilage has been debated. Recently, several enzymes essential for estrogen synthesis were shown to be expressed in rat growth plate chondrocytes. Local production of 17β-estradiol (E2) has also been demonstrated in rat costal chondrocytes. We aimed to determine the functional role of locally produced estrogen in growth plate cartilage. The human chondrocyte-like cell line HCS-2/8 was used to study estrogen effects on cell proliferation (3H-labeled thymidine uptake) and apoptosis (cell death detection ELISA kit). Chondrocyte production of E2 was measured by RIA and organ cultures of fetal rat metatarsal bones were used to study the effects of estrogen on longitudinal growth rate. We found that significant amounts of E2 were produced by HCS-2/8 chondrocytes (64.1 ± 5.3 fmol/3 days/106cells). The aromatase inhibitor letrozole (1 μM) and the pure estrogen receptor antagonist ICI 182,780 (10 μM) inhibited proliferation of HCS-2/8 chondrocytes by 20% (P<0.01) and almost 50% (P<0.001), respectively. Treatment with ICI 182,780 (10 μM) increased apoptosis by 228% (P<0.05). Co-treatment with either caspase-3 or pan-caspase inhibitors completely blocked ICI 182,780-induced apoptosis (P<0.001 vs ICI 182,780 only). Moreover, both ICI 182,780 (10 μM) and letrozole (1 μM) decreased longitudinal growth of fetal rat metatarsal bones after 7 days of culture (P<0.01). In conclusion, our data clearly show that chondrocytes endogenously produce E2 and that locally produced estrogen stimulates chondrocyte proliferation and protects from spontaneous apoptosis. In addition, longitudinal growth is promoted by estrogens locally produced within the epiphyseal growth plate.

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O Nilsson, V Abad, D Chrysis, EM Ritzen, L Savendahl and J Baron

Estrogen regulates skeletal growth and promotes epiphyseal fusion. To explore the mechanisms underlying these effects we investigated the expression of estrogen receptor-alpha (ERalpha) and -beta (ERbeta) in rat and rabbit growth plates during postnatal development, using immunohistochemistry. Immunoreactivity for ERalpha and ERbeta was observed in resting zone and proliferative zone chondrocytes at all ages studied for both rat (7, 14, 28 and 70 days of age) and rabbit (1, 7, 28 and 120 days of age). In the rat distal humerus and the rabbit proximal tibia, expression of both receptors in the hypertrophic zone was minimal at early ages, increasing only at the last time point prior to epiphyseal fusion. Expression was rarely seen in the hypertrophic zone of the rat proximal tibia, a growth plate that does not fuse until late in life. Therefore, we conclude that ERalpha and ERbeta are both expressed in the mammalian growth plate. The temporal and anatomical pattern suggests that ER expression in the hypertrophic zone in particular may play a role in epiphyseal fusion.

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O Nilsson, D Chrysis, O Pajulo, A Boman, M Holst, J Rubinstein, E Martin Ritzen and L Savendahl

Sex steroids are required for a normal pubertal growth spurt and fusion of the human epiphyseal growth plate. However, the localization of sex steroid receptors in the human pubertal growth plate remains controversial. We have investigated the expression of estrogen receptor (ER) alpha, ERbeta and androgen receptor (AR) in biopsies of proximal tibial growth plates obtained during epiphyseal surgery in 16 boys and eight girls. All pubertal stages were represented (Tanner stages 1-5). ERalpha, ERbeta and AR were visualized with immunohistochemistry and the number of receptor-positive cells was counted using an image analysis system. Percent receptor-positive chondrocytes were assessed in the resting, proliferative and hypertrophic zones and evaluated for sex differences and pubertal trends. Both ERalpha- and ERbeta-positive cells were detected at a greater frequency in the resting and proliferative zones than in the hypertrophic zone (64+/-2%, 64+/-2% compared with 38+/-3% for ERalpha, and 63+/-3%, 66+/-3% compared with 53+/-3% for ERbeta), whereas AR was more abundant in the resting (65+/-3%) and hypertrophic zones (58+/-3%) than in the proliferative zone (41+/-3%). No sex difference in the patterns of expression was detected. For ERalpha and AR, the percentage of receptor-positive cells was similar at all Tanner pubertal stages, whereas ERbeta showed a slight decrease in the proliferative zone during pubertal development (P<0.05). In summary, our findings suggest that ERalpha, ERbeta and AR are expressed in the human growth plate throughout pubertal development, with no difference between the sexes.