The effect of vanadate on proteoglycan synthesis by cultured rabbit costal chondrocytes was examined. Rabbit chondrocytes were seeded at low densities and grown to confluency in medium supplemented with 10% fetal bovine serum, and then the serum concentration was reduced to 0.3%. At the low serum concentration, chondrocytes adopted a fibroblastic morphology. Addition of 4 microM vanadate to the culture medium induced a morphologic differentiation of the fibroblastic cells to spherical chondrocytes, and increased by two- to threefold incorporation of [35S]sulfate and [3H]glucosamine into large, chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans. The stimulation of incorporation of labeled precursors reflected real increases in proteoglycan synthesis, in that chemical analyses showed increases in the accumulation of macromolecules containing hexuronic acid and hexosamine in vanadate-maintained cultures. However, vanadate had only a marginal effect on [35S]sulfate incorporation into small proteoglycans and [3H]glucosamine incorporation into hyaluronic acid and chondroitinase AC-resistant material. These results provide evidence that vanadate selectively stimulates the synthesis of proteoglycans characteristically found in cartilage by rabbit costal chondrocyte cultures.

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