The present study was designed to investigate whether or not chondrocytes in articular cartilage express type I collagen in vivo under physiological conditions. Expressions of the gene and the phenotype of type I collagen were examined in rat tibial articular cartilage in the knee joint during development. Knee joints of Wistar rats at 1, 5, and 11 weeks postnatal were fixed in 4% paraformaldehyde with or without 0.5% glutaraldehyde and decalcified in 10% EDTA. After the specimens were embedded in paraffin and serial sections made, adjacent sections were processed for immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization for type I collagen. The epiphysis of the tibia was composed of cartilage in week 1 rats. Formation of articular cartilage was in progress in week 5 as endochondral ossification proceeded and was completed in week 11. Anti-type I collagen antibody stained only the superficial area of the epiphysis in week 1, but the immunoreactivity was expanded into the deeper region of the articular cartilage with development in weeks 5 and 11. Hybridization signals for pro-alpha 1 (I) collagen were seen in some of chondrocytes in the epiphysis of the week 1 tibia. The most intense signals were identified in chondrocytes in week 5 and the signals appeared weaker in week 11. The present study demonstrated that chondrocytes synthesize type I collagen and accumulate the protein in the matrix during development of the articular cartilage.
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