The treatment of embryonic chick chondrocyte cultures with heparin results in a decrease in collagen synthesis. One of the collagens synthesized by hypertrophic chondrocytes, specifically type X collagen, may play an important role in cartilage mineralization and endochondral ossification. Recently a new short chain collagenous component was found in cultures of rat vascular smooth muscle cells (Majack, R. A., and P. Bornstein, 1985, J. Cell Biol., 100: 613-619). The present study was initiated to investigate heparin's effect on type X collagen in embryonic chick chondrocytes and to further evaluate the nature of the short chain component synthesized by rat vascular smooth muscle cells. Different tissues may respond differently to the administration of heparin. In chondrocyte cultures heparin decreased both total collagen synthesis as well as the synthesis of type X collagen. There was an accumulation of collagen precursors, found principally in the cell layer compartment, which appeared to be the result of heparin's inhibition of the NH2-terminal protease. In cultures of rat vascular smooth muscle cells heparin was found to increase the synthesis of a short chain collagenous component as previously reported. However, comparison with a type X collagen standard showed this to be different from type X. In all cases, the effect of heparin on collagen chain precursors, chondrocyte type X synthesis, and synthesis of a vascular smooth muscle short chain collagen was shown to be reversible. Similar effects were obtained by adding chondroitin sulfate to chondrocytes, suggesting a role for extracellular matrix components in the modulation of collagen synthesis. These findings are consistent with the concept of a group of short chain collagens with type X collagen being unique to hypertrophic chondrocytes.

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