Ovotransferrin expression during chick embryo tibia development has been investigated in vivo by immunocytochemistry and in situ hybridization. Ovotransferrin was first observed in the 7 day cartilaginous rudiment. At later stages, the factor was localized in the articular zone of the bone epiphysis and in the bone diaphysis where it was concentrated in hypertrophic cartilage, in zones of cartilage erosion and in the osteoid at the chondro-bone junction. When the localization of the ovotransferrin receptors was investigated, it was observed that chondrocytes at all stages of differentiation express a low level of the oviduct (tissue) specific receptor. Interestingly, high levels of the receptor were detectable in the 13-d old tibia in the diaphysis collar of stacked-osteoprogenitor cells and in the layer of derived osteoblasts. High levels of oviduct receptor were also observed in the primordia of the menisci. Metabolic labeling of proteins secreted by cultured chondrocytes and osteoblasts and Northern blot analysis of RNA extracted from the same cells confirmed and completed the above information. Ovotransferrin was expressed by in vitro differentiating chondrocytes in the early phase of the culture and, at least when culture conditions allowed extracellular matrix assembly, also by hypertrophic chondrocytes and derived osteoblast-like cells. Osteoblasts directly obtained from bone chips produced ovotransferrin only at the time of culture mineralization. By Western blot analysis, oviduct receptor proteins were detected at a very low level in extract from differentiating and hypertrophic chondrocytes and at a higher level in extract from hypertrophic chondrocytes undergoing differentiation to osteoblast-like cells and from mineralizing osteoblasts. Based on these results, the existence of autocrine and paracrine loops involving ovotransferrin and its receptor during chondrogenesis and endochondral bone formation is discussed.

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