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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Chondrocytes, synoviocytes and dermal fibroblasts all express PH-20, a hyaluronidase active at neutral pH

Hafida El Hajjaji1, Ada Asbury Cole2 and Daniel-Henri Manicourt13*

Author Affiliations

1 Christian de Duve Institute of Cellular Pathology, Department of Biochemistry, Connective Tissue Group, Université Catholique de Louvain in Brussels, Brussels, Belgium

2 Department of Biochemistry, Rush Medical College, Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center, Chicago, IL, USA

3 Department of Rheumatology, Saint Luke's University Hospital, Catholic University of Louvain in Brussels, Brussels, Belgium

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2005, 7:R756-R768  doi:10.1186/ar1730

Published: 4 April 2005


Hyaluronan (HA), an important component of connective tissues, is highly metabolically active, but the mechanisms involved in its catabolism are still largely unknown. We hypothesized that a protein similar to sperm PH-20, the only mammalian hyaluronidase known to be active at neutral pH, could be expressed in connective tissue cells. An mRNA transcript similar to that of PH-20 was found in chondrocytes, synoviocytes, and dermal fibroblasts, and its levels were enhanced upon stimulation with IL-1. In cell layers extracted with Triton X-100 – but not with octylglucoside – and in culture media, a polyclonal antipeptide anti-PH-20 antibody identified protein bands with a molecular weight similar to that of sperm PH-20 (60 to 65 kDa) and exhibiting a hyaluronidase activity at neutral pH. Further, upon stimulation with IL-1, the amounts of the neutral-active hyaluronidase increased in both cell layers and culture media. These findings contribute potential important new insights into the biology of connective tissues. It is likely that PH-20 facilitates cell-receptor-mediated uptake of HA, while overexpression or uncontrolled expression of the enzyme can cause great havoc to connective tissues: not only does HA fragmentation compromise the structural integrity of tissues, but also the HA fragments generated are highly angiogenic and are potent inducers of proinflammatory cytokines. On the other hand, the enzyme activity may account for the progressive depletion of HA seen in osteoarthritis cartilage, a depletion that is believed to play an important role in the apparent irreversibility of this disease process.