Cathepsin B, a marker of the dedifferentiated chondrocyte phenotype, contributes to cartilage destruction in osteoarthritis and pathological proteolysis in rheumatoid arthritis and cancer. In search of possible means for neutralizing the action of this enzyme, we compared its expression, biosynthesis and distribution in articular chondrocytes and two lines of immortalized human chondrocytes. Native articular chondrocytes in primary culture and the polyclonal T/C-28a2 chondrocyte cell line were similar with respect to the number of endosomes and lysosomes, the distribution of three alternatively spliced cathepsin B mRNA forms, and the cathepsin B activity. In contrast, the clonal C-28/I2 cell line contained four times higher levels of intracellular cathepsin B activity, slightly higher numbers of endosomes and lysosomes, and uniform distribution of all three cathepsin B transcripts and thus resembled subcultured chondrocytes at an early stage of dedifferentiation. Transfection of T/C-28a2 chondrocytes with double-stranded cathepsin B mRNA resulted in inhibition of cathepsin B biosynthesis by up to 70% due to RNA interference, and single-stranded antisense DNAs of various sizes decreased cathepsin B biosynthesis by up to 78%. An antisense oligonucleotide designed to hybridize to the end of cathepsin B's exons 1 and the beginning of exon 3 was successful in specifically inhibiting the mRNA splice variant lacking exon 2. These results indicate that cathepsin B expression and activity may be targeted for gene silencing by RNA interference and antisense DNA in chondrocytes. Furthermore, the differential expression and distribution of cathepsin B and presence of the necessary molecular apparatus for gene silencing in the immortalized human chondrocyte cell lines indicate that they may serve as a useful model for studying the function of relevant enzymes in cartilage pathologies.

Abbreviations used: DMEM, Dulbecco's modified Eagle's medium; dsRNA, double-stranded RNA; eIF-2, eukaryotic initiation factor-2; FCS, fetal calf serum; RNAi, RNA interference; RT, reverse transcriptase; siRNA, small interfering RNA; ssDNA, single-stranded DNA; 5′-UTR, 5′-untranslated region.

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