The effect of hydrostatic pressure on proteoglycan (PG) metabolism of chondrocyte cultures was examined using a specially designed test chamber. Primary cultures of bovine articular chondrocytes at confluence were exposed for 20 h to 5 and 30 MPa continuous hydrostatic pressures and 5 MPa hydrostatic pulses (0.017, 0.25 and 0.5 Hz) in the presence of [35S]sulphate. Northern blot analyses showed that chondrocyte cultures used in this study expressed abundant mRNA transcripts of aggrecan, typical of chondrocytes, but not versican. The cultures also expressed biglycan and decorin. Enzymic digestions with keratanase and chondroitinases AC, ABC and B and subsequent SDS/agarose gel electrophoresis confirmed the synthesis of aggrecans and small dermatan sulphate PGs. The continuous 30 MPa pressure reduced total PG synthesis by 37% as measured by [35S]sulphate incorporation, in contrast to the 5 MPa continuous pressure which had no effect. The high static pressure also reduced total [3H]glucosamine incorporation by 63% and total [14C]leucine incorporation by 57%. The cyclic pressures showed a frequency-dependent stimulation (0.5 Hz, 11%) or inhibition (0.017 Hz, -17%) of [35S]sulphate incorporation. Aggrecans secreted under continuous 30 MPa pressure showed a retarded migration in 0.75% SDS/agarose gel electrophoresis and they also eluted earlier on Sephacryl S-1000 gel filtration, indicative of a larger molecular size. The increased size was consistent with an increase of average glycosaminoglycan chain length as determined by Sephacryl S-300 gel filtration. No change in aggrecan size was observed with the lower (5 MPa) static or cyclic pressures. Continuous 30 MPa hydrostatic pressure slightly reduced the steady-state mRNA level of aggrecan, in parallel with the decline in PG synthesis measured by [35S]sulphate incorporation. The results demonstrated that high hydrostatic pressure could influence the synthesis of PGs, especially of aggrecans, in chondrocytes both at the transcriptional and translational/post-translational levels.

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