Objective. To investigate whether the abnormal expression of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) 3, 9, and 13 and ADAMTS-4 by human osteoarthritic (OA) chondrocytes is associated with epigenetic "unsilencing." Methods. Cartilage was obtained from the femoral heads of 16 patients with OA and 10 control patients with femoral neck fracture. Chondrocytes with abnormal enzyme expression were immunolocalized. DNA was extracted, and the methylation status of the promoter regions of MMPs 3, 9, and 13 and ADAMTS-4 was analyzed with methylation-sensitive restriction enzymes, followed by polymerase chain reaction amplification. Results. Very few chondrocytes from control cartilage expressed the degrading enzymes, whereas all clonal chondrocytes from late-stage OA cartilage were immunopositive. The overall percentage of nonmethylated sites was increased in OA patients (48.6%) compared with controls (20.1%): 20% versus 4% for MMP-13, 81% versus 47% for MMP-9, 57% versus 30% for MMP-3, and 48% versus 0% for ADAMTS-4. Not all CpG sites were equally susceptible to loss of methylation. Some sites were uniformly methylated, whereas in others, methylation was generally absent. For each enzyme, there was 1 specific CpG site where the demethylation in OA patients was significantly higher than that in controls: at -110 for MMP-13, -36 for MMP-9, -635 for MMP-3, and -753 for ADAMTS-4. Conclusion. This study provides the first evidence that altered synthesis of cartilage-degrading enzymes by late-stage OA chondrocytes may have resulted from epigenetic changes in the methylation status of CpG sites in the promoter regions of these enzymes. These changes, which are clonally transmitted to daughter cells, may contribute to the development of OA.
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