Apoptotic signaling pathways in mammalian growth plate chondrocytes
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The growth plate resting zone consists of hyaline-like chondrocytes disbursed in a proteoglycan rich extracellular matrix. These cells give rise to the columns of the growth zone, consisting of progressively hypertrophic cells. Proliferation of resting zone chondrocytes induced by systemic and local stimuli is the driving force of longitudinal growth of long bones. Therefore, homeostasis of this cell population has great importance. Although the regulation of proliferation and differentiation of these cells has been well studied, little is known about the regulation of their apoptosis. We have previously shown that chelerythrine and tamoxifen induce apoptosis in resting zone chondrocytes in a nitric oxide (NO)-dependent pathway. In this study we explored two physiological apoptogens: inorganic phosphate (Pi) and 17β-estradiol (E₂). We found NO production is necessary in Pi-induced apoptosis. We also found that NO donors induced chondrocyte apoptosis by up-regulating p53 expression, Bax/Bcl-2 expression ratio and cytochrome C release from mitochondria, as well as caspase-3 activity, indicating that NO induces chondrocyte apoptosis in a mitochondrial pathway. Mitogen activated protein kinase (MAPK) activity was involved. A c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) inhibitor, but not inhibitors of p38 or extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK1/2), was able to block NO-induced apoptosis, indicating that JNK is necessary in this pathway. Taken together, Pi elevates NO production, which leads to a mitochondrial apoptotic pathway dependent on JNK. On the other hand, although E₂caused apoptosis in resting zone chondrocytes in a dose-dependent manner, up-regulated p53 and Bax, and induced release of cytochrome C from the mitochondria, which indicated a mitochondrial apoptotic pathway, the apoptosis did not involve elevated nitric oxide production or MAPK as was found in Pi-induced apoptosis. This study elucidates the signaling pathway underlying Pi and E₂-induced chondrocyte apoptosis. It has important implications on understanding the development of mammalian growth plate. It also provides further information about the physiological functions of estrogen on longitudinal bone growth.