Rabbit articular cartilage does not secrete cathepsin B in organ culture. By established methods for modulating the chondrocyte phenotype in vitro, however, the synthesis, intracellular storage, and secretion of cathepsin B were followed up over a period of two months. With chondrocytes grown in monolayer cultures both the intracellular pool of the enzyme and its secretion were very small initially, but increased progressively to a factor of 110 after eight weeks. The secretion of cathepsin B was strongly depressed after transferring the cells from monolayer to collagen gel cultures. In contrast, collagenase was secreted in almost the same amounts during the whole period in both monolayer and collagen gel cultures. The cells cultured in collagen gels secreted more collagenase than those grown in monolayers. The reversible switch of cathepsin B secretion suggests that this enzyme, unlike collagenase, is a marker of the dedifferentiated chondrocyte phenotype. Cathepsin B was localised within cultured chondrocytes using antibodies raised against rabbit liver cathepsin B and shared with it many catalytic properties. Its Mr, however, was higher (34,000 compared with 27,000) and showed an unusual resistance to denaturation at neutral-alkaline pH, which may confer on this enzyme an important role in the degradation of cartilage matrix.
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