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ADAMTS aggrecanases play a major role in cartilage degeneration during degenerative and inflammatory arthritis. The cartilage-specific secreted protein Upper zone of growth plate and cartilage matrix associated protein (Ucma) has been shown to block ADAMTS-triggered aggrecanolysis in experimental osteoarthritis. Here we aimed to investigate whether and how Ucma may affect cartilage destruction and osteophyte formation in the context of inflammatory arthritis.
Ucma–ADAMTS5 protein interactions were studied using slot blot and solid phase binding assays. Chondrocyte cultures were stimulated with ADAMTS5 or IL-1β in the presence or absence of Ucma and aggrecanolysis was assessed by neoepitope formation. Arthritis was induced by transfer of K/BxN serum into wild-type (WT), Ucma-deficient and WT mice treated with recombinant Ucma. Cartilage proteoglycan loss and cartilage damage was assessed by safranin-O stain, aggrecanase-induced neoepitope formation and histomorphometry, respectively. Osteophytes were assessed by histomorphometry, micro-computed tomography, RNA in-situ hybridisation for collagen10a1 and osteocalcin, and staining for TRAP activity. Gene expression analyses were performed using real-time RT-PCR.
Ucma physically interacted with ADAMTS5 and blocked its aggrecanase activity in chondrocyte cultures. Ucma was highly expressed in the articular cartilage and in osteophytes during arthritis. Ucma had no effect on inflammation and bone erosion. In contrast, Ucma-deficient mice developed significantly more severe cartilage proteoglycan loss and cartilage destruction. Conversely, treatment with Ucma inhibited cartilage degeneration in arthritis. Ucma effectively inhibited ADAMTS5-triggered or IL-1β-triggered aggrecanolysis in vitro and in vivo. Furthermore, osteophyte formation was reduced in Ucma-deficient mice.
These results indicate that Ucma inhibits aggrecanolysis by physical interaction with ADAMTS5 and protects from cartilage degeneration in inflammatory arthritis. Ucma therefore represents an interesting novel and specific target for preventing cartilage degradation in the context of inflammatory arthritis.