We have examined the catabolism of the proteoglycans aggrecan, decorin and biglycan in fresh tendon samples and in explant cultures of tissue from the tensional and compressed regions of young and mature bovine tendons. A panel of well-characterized antibodies that recognize glycosaminoglycan or protein (linear or neoepitope) sequences was used to detect proteoglycans and proteoglycan degradation products that were both retained within the tissue and released into the culture medium. In addition, a reverse-transcriptase-mediated PCR analysis was used to examine the mRNA expression patterns of tendon proteoglycans and aggrecanases. The results of this study indicate a major role for aggrecanase(s) in the catabolism of aggrecan in bovine tendon. The study also provides a characterization of glycosaminoglycan epitopes associated with the proteoglycans of tendon, illustrating age-related changes in the isomers of chondroitin sulphate disaccharides that remain attached to the core protein glycosaminoglycan linkage region after digestion with chondroitinase ABC. Evidence for a rapid turnover of the small proteoglycans decorin and biglycan was also observed, indicating additional molecular pathways that might compromise the integrity of the collagen matrix and potentially contribute to tendon dysfunction after injury and during disease.

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