The pericellular matrix (PCM) serves a critical role in signal transduction and mechanoprotection in chondrocytes. Osteoarthritis (OA) leads to a gradual deterioration of the cartilage, marked by a shift in the spatial arrangement of chondrocytes from initially isolated strands to large cell clusters in end-stage degeneration. These changes coincide with progressive enzymatic breakdown of the PCM. This study aims to assess the role and involvement of specific matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) in PCM degradation during OA. We selected cartilage samples from 148 OA patients based on the predominant spatial chondrocyte patterns. The presence of various MMPs (-1,-2,-3,-7,-8,-9,-10,-12,-13) was identified by multiplexed immunoassays. For each pattern and identified MMP, the levels and activation states (pro-form vs. active form) were measured by zymograms and western blots. The localization of these MMPs was determined using immunohistochemical labeling. To verify these results, healthy cartilage was exposed to purified MMPs, and the consecutive structural integrity of the PCM was analyzed through immunolabeling and proximity ligation assay. Screening showed elevated levels of MMP-1,-2,-3,-7, and -13, with their expression profile showing a clear dependency of the degeneration stage. MMP-2 and -7 were localized in the PCM, whereas MMP-1,-7, and -13 were predominantly intracellular. We found that MMP-2 and -3 directly disrupt collagen type VI, and MMP-3 and -7 destroy perlecan. MMP-2, -3, and -7 emerge as central players in early PCM degradation in OA. With the disease's initial stages already displaying elevated peaks in MMP expression, this insight may guide early targeted therapies to halt abnormal PCM remodeling. Statement of significance: Osteoarthritis (OA) causes a gradual deterioration of the articular cartilage, accompanied by a progressive breakdown of the pericellular matrix (PCM). The PCM's crucial function in protecting and transmitting signals within chondrocytes is impaired in OA. By studying 148 OA-patient cartilage samples, the involvement of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) in PCM breakdown was explored. Findings highlighted elevated levels of certain MMPs linked to different stages of degeneration. Notably, MMP-2, -3, and -7 were identified as potent contributors to early PCM degradation, disrupting key components like collagen type VI and perlecan. Understanding these MMPs' roles in initiating OA progression, especially in its early stages, provides insights into potential targets for interventions to preserve PCM integrity and potentially impeding OA advancement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)297-307
Number of pages11
JournalActa Biomaterialia
StatePublished - Jun 2024


  • Articular cartilage
  • Collagen type VI
  • Degradation
  • Matrix metalloproteinase
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Pericellular matrix
  • Perlecan


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