The effect of parathyroid hormone (PTH) in vivo after secretion by the parathyroid gland is mediated by bioactive fragments of the molecule. To elucidate their possible role in the regulation of cartilage matrix metabolism, the influence of the amino-terminal (NH2-terminal), the central, and the carboxyl-terminal (COOH-terminal) portion of the PTH on collagen gene expression was studied in a serum free cell culture system of fetal bovine and human chondrocytes. Expression of alpha1 (I), alpha1 (II), alpha1 (III), and alpha1 (X) mRNA was investigated by in situ hybridization and quantified by Northern blot analysis. NH2-terminal and mid-regional fragments containing a core sequence between amino acid residues 28-34 of PTH induced a significant rise in alpha1 (II) mRNA in proliferating chondrocytes. In addition, the COOH-terminal portion (aa 52-84) of the PTH molecule was shown to exert a stimulatory effect on alpha1 (II) and alpha1 (X) mRNA expression in chondrocytes from the hypertrophic zone of bovine epiphyseal cartilage. PTH peptides harboring either the functional domain in the central or COOH-terminal region of PTH can induce cAMP independent Ca2+ signaling in different subsets of chondrocytes as assessed by microfluorometry of Fura-2/AM loaded cells. These results support the hypothesis that different hormonal effects of PTH on cartilage matrix metabolism are exerted by distinct effector domains and depend on the differentiation stage of the target cell.

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