Calcifying cartilages show a restricted expression of tissue transglutaminase. Immunostaining of newborn rat paw bones reveals expression only in the epiphyseal growth plate. Tissue transglutaminase appears first intracellularly in the proliferation/maturation zone and remains until calcification of the tissue in the lower hypertrophic zone. Externalization occurs before mineralization. Subsequently, the enzyme is present in the interterritorial matrix during provisional calcification and in the calcified cartilage cores of bone trabeculae. In trachea, mineralization occurring with maturation in the center of the cartilage is accompanied by expression of tissue transglutaminase at the border of the hydroxyapatite deposits. Transglutaminase activity also shows a restricted distribution in cartilage, similar to the one observed for tissue transglutaminase protein. Analysis of tissue homogenates showed that the enzyme is present in growth plate cartilage, but not in articular cartilage, and recognizes a limited set of substrate proteins. Osteonectin is coexpressed with tissue transglutaminase both in the growth plate and in calcifying tracheal cartilage and is a specific substrate for tissue transglutaminase in vitro. Tissue transglutaminase expression in skeletal tissues is strictly regulated, correlates with chondrocyte differentiation, precedes cartilage calcification, and could lead to cross-linking of the mineralizing matrix.

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