Proteoglycans were extracted from the articular cartilage of foetal, calf and adult bovine metacarpal–phalangeal joints with 4m-guanidinium chloride. After extraction, the high-density proteoglycans (PG-I fractions) were prepared by sedimentation in two sequential CsCl-density-gradient procedures [Swann, Powell & Sotman (1979) J. Biol. Chem.254, 945–954]. The PG-I fractions from foetal, calf and adult tissues accounted for 75%, 52% and 46% respectively of the extracted components. The glucosamine, galactose, N-acetylneuraminic acid and protein contents increased with age. The overall amino acid compositions of PG-I fractions were similar. Fractionation of PG-I-fraction samples on a Bio-Gel A-50m column indicated that the molecular weight decreased with age. The PG-I fractions were specifically 3H-labelled by treatment with galactose oxidase followed by reduction with NaB3H4. The 3H radioactivity was incorporated into both galactose and galactosamine residues of different carbohydrate side chains. The elution profiles of alkaline borohydride-treated foetal, calf and adult PG-I-fraction samples on a Sepharose 6B column showed that the molecular weights of chondroitin sulphate chains were 13500, 12000 and 10500 in foetal, calf and adult tissues respectively. Fractionation of the alkaline borohydride-treated foetal, calf and adult PG-I-fraction samples and 3H-labelled calf and adult PG-I-fraction samples on a Bio-Gel P-10 column showed that there was an inverse relationship between the low-molecular-weight O-linked oligosaccharides and the higher-molecular-weight sialic acid-containing constituents at different ages. The oligosaccharide components of foetal, calf and adult PG-I-fraction samples represented 79%, 69% and 36% respectively of the total sialic acid content of the proteoglycans. Similarly in the 3H-labelled calf and adult samples 75% and 30% of the total radioactivity were present in the oligosaccharide components respectively. Digestion with chondroitinase AC-II and infrared analyses showed that the PG-I-fraction F and C samples contained primarily chondroitin 4-sulphate chains whereas PG-I-fraction sample A was 6-sulphated. These studies show that the major proteoglycans (PG-I fractions) in the articular cartilage of foetal, calf and adult animals differ in the content, types and structure of the chondroitin sulphate, keratan sulphate and oligosaccharide constituents. These changes in proteoglycan structure reflect the gross age-related changes in the chemical composition of the tissue.

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