CCN2/CTGF (CCN family 2/connective tissue growth factor) is a multi-cellular protein with a broad range of activities. It modulates many cellular functions, including proliferation, migration, adhesion and extracellular matrix production, and it is thus involved in many biological and pathological processes. In particular, CCN2/CTGF is essential for normal skeletal development. To identify CCN2/CTGF-interactive proteins capable of modulating its action in cartilage, we carried out a yeast two-hybrid screening using CCN2/CTGF peptide as a bait and a cDNA library from a chondrocytic cell line, HCS-2/8. In the present paper, we report the identification of aggrecan, which is a major proteoglycan of the extracellular matrix in cartilage, as a CCN2/CTGF-binding protein. Among the four domains of CCN2/CTGF, the IGFBP [IGF (insulin-like growth factor)-binding protein-like] and/or VWC (von Willebrand factor type C) domains had a direct interaction with aggrecan in a yeast two-hybrid assay. The results of a solid-phase-binding assay using aggrecan-coated plates also showed binding to recombinant CCN2/CTGF in a dose-dependent manner. rIGFBP (recombinant IGFBP) and rVWC (recombinant VWC) module peptides had stronger binding to aggrecan compared with rTSP1 (recombinant thrombospondin type 1 repeat) and rCT (recombinant C-terminal cystine knot) module peptides. SPR (surface plasmon resonance) analysis showed the direct interaction between the CCN2/CTGF and aggrecan, and ectopically overexpressed CCN2/CTGF and AgG3 (G3 domain of aggrecan) confirmed their binding In vivo. Indirect immunofluorescence analysis indicated that CCN2/CTGF was extracellularly co-localized with aggrecan on HCS-2/8 cells. The rIGFBP–rVWC peptide effectively enhanced the production and release of aggrecan compared with the rTSP–rCT peptide in chondrocytes. These results indicate that CCN2/CTGF binds to aggrecan through its N-terminal IGFBP and VWC modules, and this binding may be related to the CCN2/CTGF-enhanced production and secretion of aggrecan by chondrocytes.

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