The large, aggregating chondroitin sulphate proteoglycan of cartilage, aggrecan, has served as a generic model of proteoglycan structure. Molecular cloning of aggrecans has further defined their amino acid sequences and domain structures. In this study, we have obtained the complete coding sequence of chicken sternal cartilage aggrecan by a combination of cDNA and genomic DNA sequencing. The composite sequence is 6117 bp in length, encoding 1951 amino acids. Comparison of chicken aggrecan protein primary structure with rat, human and bovine aggrecans has disclosed both similarities and differences. The domains which are most highly conserved at 70-80% identity are the N-terminal domains G1 and G2 and the C-terminal domain G3. The chondroitin sulphate domain of chicken aggrecan is smaller than that of rat and human aggrecans and has very distinctive repeat sequences. It has two separate sections, one comprising 12 consecutive Ser-Gly-Glu repeats of 20 amino acids each, adjacent to the other which has 23 discontinuous Ser-Gly-Glu repeats of 10 amino acids each; this latter region, N-terminal to the former one, appears to be unique to chicken aggrecan. The two regions contain a total of 94 potential chondroitin sulphate attachment sites. Genomic comparison shows that, although chicken exons 11-14 are identical in size to the rat and human exons, chicken exon 10 is the smallest of the three species. This is also reflected in the size of its chondroitin sulphate coding region and in the total number of Ser-Gly pairs. The putative keratan sulphate domain shows 31-45% identity with the other species and lacks the repetitive sequences seen in the others. In summary, while the linear arrangement of specific domains of chicken aggrecan is identical to that in the aggrecans of other species, and while there is considerable identity of three separate domains, chicken aggrecan demonstrates unique features, notably in its chondroitin sulphate domain and its keratan sulphate domain. Thus different variants of chondroitin sulphate and keratan sulphate domains may have evolved separately to fulfil specific biochemical and physiological functions.

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