In protein folding and secretion disorders, activation of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress signaling (ERSS) protects cells, alleviating stress that would otherwise trigger apoptosis. Whether the stress-surviving cells resume normal function is not known. We studied the in vivo impact of ER stress in terminally differentiating hypertrophic chondrocytes (HCs) during endochondral bone formation. In transgenic mice expressing mutant collagen X as a consequence of a 13-base pair deletion in Col10a1 (13del), misfolded α1(X) chains accumulate in HCs and elicit ERSS. Histological and gene expression analyses showed that these chondrocytes survived ER stress, but terminal differentiation is interrupted, and endochondral bone formation is delayed, producing a chondrodysplasia phenotype. This altered differentiation involves cell-cycle re-entry, the re-expression of genes characteristic of a prehypertrophic-like state, and is cell-autonomous. Concomitantly, expression of Col10a1 and 13del mRNAs are reduced, and ER stress is alleviated. ERSS, abnormal chondrocyte differentiation, and altered growth plate architecture also occur in mice expressing mutant collagen II and aggrecan. Alteration of the differentiation program in chondrocytes expressing unfolded or misfolded proteins may be part of an adaptive response that facilitates survival and recovery from the ensuing ER stress. However, the altered differentiation disrupts the highly coordinated events of endochondral ossification culminating in chondrodysplasia.
The assembly and folding of secreted proteins in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is exquisitely regulated by a complex mechanism that maintains an equilibrium between folded and unfolded proteins. Perturbation of this homeostasis induces ER stress, which, if not alleviated through ER stress signaling (ERSS), ultimately triggers cell death. Normal bone growth occurs through a highly coordinated differentiation program that yields specialized cartilage cells (chondrocytes); when this program is disrupted, chondrodysplasia, or malformed skeletons, can result. Chondrodysplasias caused by mutations that affect protein assembly and secretion are characterized by a disorganization of bony growth plates and distension of the ER. We tested whether these chondrodysplasia characteristics were linked to ERSS. By investigating the impact of ER stress on the cell fate of hypertrophic chondrocytes (HCs) in transgenic mice expressing mutations in collagen that prevent proper folding, we revealed a novel adaptive mechanism that helps alleviate the unfolded protein load. Instead of undergoing apoptosis, the HCs undergoing ER stress adapt, re-enter the cell cycle, and revert to a less-mature state in which expression of the mutant collagen is reduced. Our findings have broad implications for adaptive mechanisms to ER stress in vivo and for the pathophysiology underlying chondrodysplasias caused by mutations that impact on protein assembly and secretion.
When subjected to ER stress (by expression of misfolded or unfolded proteins), hypertrophic chondrocytes undergo alterations to their developmental program that may be part of an adaptive response.