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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Modulation of transforming growth factor beta signalling pathway genes by transforming growth factor beta in human osteoarthritic chondrocytes: involvement of Sp1 in both early and late response cells to transforming growth factor beta

Catherine Baugé1*, Olivier Cauvard1, Sylvain Leclercq2, Philippe Galéra1 and Karim Boumédiene1*

Author Affiliations

1 Université Caen, IFR ICORE 146, Laboratory of Extracellular Matrix and Pathology, Esplanade de la Paix, 14032 Caen cedex, France

2 Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Saint-Martin Private Clinic, Rue Roquemonts, 14000 Caen, France

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2011, 13:R23  doi:10.1186/ar3247

Published: 15 February 2011



Transforming growth factor beta (TGFβ) plays a central role in morphogenesis, growth, and cell differentiation. This cytokine is particularly important in cartilage where it regulates cell proliferation and extracellular matrix synthesis. While the action of TGFβ on chondrocyte metabolism has been extensively catalogued, the modulation of specific genes that function as mediators of TGFβ signalling is poorly defined. In the current study, elements of the Smad component of the TGFβ intracellular signalling system and TGFβ receptors were characterised in human chondrocytes upon TGFβ1 treatment.


Human articular chondrocytes were incubated with TGFβ1. Then, mRNA and protein levels of TGFβ receptors and Smads were analysed by RT-PCR and western blot analysis. The role of specific protein 1 (Sp1) was investigated by gain and loss of function (inhibitor, siRNA, expression vector).


We showed that TGFβ1 regulates mRNA levels of its own receptors, and of Smad3 and Smad7. It modulates TGFβ receptors post-transcriptionally by affecting their mRNA stability, but does not change the Smad-3 and Smad-7 mRNA half-life span, suggesting a potential transcriptional effect on these genes. Moreover, the transcriptional factor Sp1, which is downregulated by TGFβ1, is involved in the repression of both TGFβ receptors but not in the modulation of Smad3 and Smad7. Interestingly, Sp1 ectopic expression permitted also to maintain a similar expression pattern to early response to TGFβ at 24 hours of treatment. It restored the induction of Sox9 and COL2A1 and blocked the late response (repression of aggrecan, induction of COL1A1 and COL10A1).


These data help to better understand the negative feedback loop in the TGFβ signalling system, and enlighten an interesting role of Sp1 to regulate TGFβ response.