A glycoprotein that exhibits alkaline phosphatase activity and binds Ca2+ with high affinity has been extracted and purified from cartilage matrix vesicles by fast protein liquid chromatography. Antibodies against this glycoprotein were used to analyze its distribution in chondrocytes and in the matrix of calcifying cartilage. Under the light microscope, using immunoperoxidase or immunofluorescence techniques, the glycoprotein is localized in chondrocytes of the resting zone. At this level, the extracellular matrix does not show any reaction. In the cartilage plate, between the proliferating and the hypertrophic region, a weak immune reactivity is seen in the cytoplasm, whereas in the intercolumnar matrix the collagen fibers appear clearly stained. Stained granular structures, distributed with a pattern similar to that of matrix vesicles, are also visible. Calcified matrix is the most stained area. These results were confirmed under the electron microscope using both immunoperoxidase and protein A-gold techniques. In parallel studies, enzyme activity was also analyzed by histochemical methods. Whereas resting cartilage, the intercellular matrix of the resting zone, and calcified matrix do not exhibit any enzyme activity, the zones of maturing and hypertrophic chondrocytes are highly reactive. Some weak reactivity is also shown by chondrocytes of the resting zone. The observation that this glycoprotein (which binds Ca2+ and has alkaline phosphatase activity) is synthesized in chondrocytes and is exported to the extracellular matrix at the time when calcification begins, suggests that it plays a specific role in the process of calcification.

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