The IGF-I (insulin-like growth factor-I) signalling pathway responsible for regulation of proteoglycan synthesis in chondrocytes has not been defined and is the focus of the present study. Chondrocytes isolated from normal human articular cartilage were stimulated with IGF-I in monolayer culture or in suspension in alginate. IGF-I activated members of both the PI3K (phosphoinositide 3-kinase) pathway and the ERK (extracellular-signal-regulated kinase)/MAPK (mitogen-activated protein kinase) pathway. The PI3K inhibitors LY294002 and wortmannin blocked IGF-I-stimulated Akt phosphorylation without blocking ERK phosphorylation and this was associated with complete inhibition of proteoglycan synthesis. A decrease in IGF-I-stimulated proteoglycan synthesis was also observed upon inhibition of mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) and p70S6 kinase, both of which are downstream of Akt. The MEK (MAPK/ERK kinase) inhibitors PD98059 and U0126 blocked IGF-I-stimulated ERK phosphorylation but did not block the phosphorylation of Akt and did not decrease proteoglycan synthesis. Instead, in alginate- cultured chondrocytes, the MEK inhibitors increased IGF-I-stimulated proteoglycan synthesis when compared with cells treated with IGF-I alone. This is the first study to demonstrate that IGF-I stimulation of the PI3K signalling pathway is responsible for the ability of IGF-I to increase proteoglycan synthesis. Although IGF-I also activates the ERK/MAPK pathway, ERK activity is not required for proteoglycan synthesis and may serve as a negative regulator.

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