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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