The skeleton forms by a combination of endochondral and intramembranous ossification. Fetal long bone formation proceeds by the process of endochondral ossification in which mesenchymal stem cells condense into an anlagen, or cartilage model, then subsequently undergo chondrogenesis. Chondrocytes secrete a cartilage-specific extracellular matrix and undergo longitudinal proliferation resulting in the elongation of long bones. Undifferentiated mesenchymal cells peripheral to the cartilage anlagen develop directly into the bony collar through the process of intramembranous bone formation that does not transition through a cartilage intermediate.
Chondrocytes at the diaphysis of the developing long bone undergo further maturation and hypertrophy, followed by an exit from the cell cycle [1
]. Hypertrophic chondrocytes expressing collagen type X, alkaline phosphatase, Runx2, osteopontin, and osteocalcin stimulate the calcification of cartilage in the hypertrophic zone of the growth plate [3
]. Ossification begins with invasion of the calcified hypertrophic cartilage by capillaries from the perichondrium, is followed by the apoptosis of terminal hypertrophic chondrocytes and the degradation of cartilage matrix; ossification ends with the deposition of bone matrix by osteoblasts on residual calcified cartilage matrix that gives rise to the trabeculae of the primary spongiosa [5
Periosteal bone collar intramembranous ossification precedes the advancing front of endochondral ossification and is carried out by osteoblasts that arise from the mesenchymal cells surrounding the cartilaginous core. Appositional bone growth leads to an increase in diaphyseal diameter due to the deposition of new bone beneath the fibrous layer of the periosteum. The periosteal bone collar extends longitudinally toward both epiphyses, proximally and distally. Bone growth is accompanied by the enlargement of the marrow cavity due to the destruction of bone tissue by osteoclasts [8
], which dissolve the bone matrix [10
]. The remodeling of bone matrix by osteoclasts supports the formation of a marrow cavity filled with vessels and hematopoietic cells.
Collagen type XI is a quantitatively minor but essential component of the extracellular matrix [12
]. Collagen type XI nucleates the formation and regulates the diameter of heterotypic fibrils [13
]. Col11a1, Col11a2, and Col2a1 form the triple helical collagen XI in cartilage [16
] while alternative combinations are formed in bone, which include the minor fibrillar collagen alpha chains of types V and XI. Minor fibrillar collagens play essential roles in many tissues including heart valve, muscle, tendon, placenta, eye, and skin [17
Structurally, a triple helix is flanked by non-collagenous amino and carboxy terminal domains. Structural diversity arises in the amino terminal domains of the alpha chains of collagen type XI, Col11a1, Col11a2, and Col2a1, due to alternative splicing of the mRNA encoding each of the constituent alpha chains [25
]. Col2a1 exists in one of two splice variants [29
], while numerous splice variants have been reported for Col11a2 [19
]. In Col11a1, alternative splicing of exons may generate up to eight possible protein isoforms, which are differentially expressed, both temporally and spatially, during development [30
]. Col11a1p6b isoform is restricted to the cartilage periphery underlying the diaphyseal perichondrium during long bone development while the Col11a1p6a78 isoform is associated with early chondrocyte differentiation through pre-chondrogenic mesenchyme and is later restricted to the articular surface [26
The importance of collagen XI in development is evident from the Col11al functional knockout, the chondrodystrophic mouse (cho), which displays an autosomal recessive chondrodysplasia as a result of a point mutation in the Col11a1 gene that causes a reading frame shift and results in a premature stop codon and mRNA instability; a functional knockout of Col11a1 (Col11a1−/−
]. In the absence of Col11a1, an alternate triple helical molecule forms, consisting of Col11a2 and Col5a1, which is unable to compensate for the functional deficiency caused by an absence of Col11a1 [33
cartilage phenotype was previously characterized with deficiencies in chondrogenesis, epiphyseal cartilage structure, collagen fibrils, cleft palate, and auditory function [34
]. Here we extend previous analysis of the cartilage phenotype of the Col11a1-deficient mouse and provide information on the mineralized skeleton and bone formation by histology and X-ray microtomography (micro-CT) to specifically assess bone formation in the absence of Col11a1. The data presented here show that Col11a1 depletion resulted in alteration to both trabecular and cortical bone. Characterization of the Col11a1−/−
mouse mineralized tissue extends our previous in vitro
work to further explain the consequences of the loss of Col11a1, influencing osteoblast differentiation and mineralization. These results provide new information on bone development and increase our understanding of human conditions that are caused by mutations in the gene encoding Col11a1, including Stickler syndrome, Marshall syndrome, Wagner syndrome, and fibrochondrogenesis, indicating that Col11a1 plays an essential role in the development of trabecular and cortical bone in addition to the essential role of Col11a1 in cartilage.
2. Experimental Section
The embryos used in this study were housed and euthanized as approved by the Institute of Animal Care and Use Committee of Brigham Young University. All embryos used in this study were at embryonic day 17.5. A total of six wild-type (WT) (+/+) and three homozygous cho (−/−) on a C57Bl6 background were analyzed.
2.2. Micro-CT Analysis
Embryos were scanned with a SkyScan 1172 high-resolution micro-CT scanner (Micro Photonics, Aartselaar, Belgium) to generate data sets with a 1.7 µm3 isotropic voxel size using an acquisition protocol that consisted of X-ray tube settings of 60 kV and 250 µA, exposure time of 0.147 s, six-frame averaging, a rotation step of 0.300°, and associated scan times were approximately 7 h. Following scanning, a two-dimensional reconstruction stage was used to produce 6000 serial 4000 × 4000 pixel cross-sectional images. Three-dimensional models were reconstructed using a fixed threshold to analyze the mineralized bone phase using ImageVis3D software (Center for Integrative Biomedical Computing, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA). A light Gaussian filter (σ = 1.0, kernel = 3) to remove high-frequency noise followed by an adaptive threshold was used to segment the 3D images, which were visually checked to confirm inclusion of complete volume of interest.
Gross geometric measurements were performed using Sky Scan CT Analyzer (CTAn) software (Micro Photonics, Aartselaar, Belgium). Comparisons of shape and cross-sectional area were conducted for long bones, ribs, and spine. CTAn was used to determine trabecular thickness (Tb.Th), trabecular number (Tb.N), trabecular separation (Tb.Sp), degree of anisotropy (DA), and structure model index (SMI) [40
]. Trabecular thickness, number, and separation measurements were performed on three-dimensional whole bone models of vertebrae, vertebral bodies, and long bones in CTAn. Bone volume (BV) and bone surface (BS) were calculated based on the hexahedral marching cubes volume model of the binarized objects within the volume of interest and the faceted surface of the marching cubes volume model, respectively [43
]. Total tissue volume (TV) was defined as the volume-of-interest, which in this case refers to the entire scanned sample. Trabecular bone volume fraction (BV/TV) was calculated from BV and TV values. The degree of anisotropy (DA) and structure model index (SMI) were calculated for long bones. Cross-sectional reconstructions were color-coded according to three density ranges: high-density range (white), intermediate-density range (blue), and low-density range (green).
2.3. Trichrome Stain
Embryos were fixed in Bouin’s solution [44
] for five days and transferred to 70% ethanol for an additional three days. Ribs and limbs were excised from mice, embedded in paraffin, and sectioned at 6 µm. The sections were stained according to Gomori’s trichrome procedure, where aldehyde fuschin-stained cartilage purple, fast green-stained bone green, and phloxine B-stained blood cells reddish pink [45
]. Digital images were obtained with an Olympus BX51 photomicroscope.
2.4. Data Analysis
Confidence intervals were determined at 95%. Differences between Col11a1-deficient and WT embryos were identified as those for which the value for the Col11a1-deficient embryo fell outside of the 95% confidence interval for the WT group. Densitometric indices are expressed as mean ± SD.
Three-dimensional models were created from X-ray micro-CT images of skeletons from Col11a1-deficient mice and these were compared to WT littermates. Relative to WT littermates, the percent bone volume was increased in the absence of Col11a1 gene expression. Trabecular thickness and number were increased while trabecular separation was decreased in the Col11a1-deficient mice. This study provides quantitative information on the microarchitecture of the skeleton and the role that Col11a1 plays in bone development.
Differences in skeletal development were observed in the deltoid tuberosity of the humerus. The deltoid tuberosity was not formed in the absence of Col11a1 expression. Periosteal bone thickness was greater in the absence of Col11a1 expression compared to WT littermates, and this increase in bone thickness may be due to excessive appositional growth and mineralization within the periosteum, resulting in an increase in radial growth at the perichondrium relative to that of the control littermates. This finding may indicate a lack of regulation in bone collar formation in the absence of the Col11a1 gene product and may indicate that Col11a1 plays an essential role in the formation of the bone collar.
While the function of Col11a1 is best characterized in the context of cartilage, Col11a1 is also expressed in many other tissues, including bone. Recently, a role for Col11a1 in osteoblast function was identified in a study in which osteoblast maturation was accelerated in the absence of specific Col11a1 isoforms and inhibited in the presence of a recombinant fragment of Col11a1 [47
]. Thus, recent findings indicate a direct role in osteoblast function and differentiation, which is distinct from the previously reported role in the assembly of the extracellular matrix synthesized by chondrocytes.
Phenotypic overlap between the Col11a1 mutation and that of other structural molecules of the extracellular matrix may indicate a shared function or a direct molecular interaction between the two constituents within the matrix. Candidate molecules for which a phenotypic overlap with Col11a1 exists include Col2a1, link protein, chondroitin sulfate sulfotransferase 1, PTHrP, Indian hedgehog, and FGFRs [48
]. Mice overexpressing BMP4 in cartilage have widened bones containing thick trabeculae, possibly because of expansion of cartilage anlagen [53
]. Thickened trabeculae were also observed in a Col11a2-BMP4 transgenic mouse at 18.5 days of embryonic development. In the Col11a2-BMP4 mouse, the epiphyseal cartilage of the humeri were widened compared to WT. Additionally, the diaphyses undergoing mineralization were also widened, accompanied by the observation of thickened trabecular bone in the marrow cavities. When Noggin expression was placed under the control of the Col1a1 promoter in transgenic mice, micro-CT analysis revealed a greater volume of trabecular bone during embryonic stage 17.5 days to three weeks after birth, when compared to WT [53
It is possible that the changes in bone microarchitecture observed in the absence of the Col11a1 gene product may be explained by primary changes to the structure of the cartilage anlagen during endochondral ossification, leading to subsequent changes in bone microarchitecture secondarily [54
]. A wider cartilaginous anlagen may result in the production of a widened bone structure. Additionally, altered properties of the cartilaginous anlagen due to the absence of Col11a1 may result in changes to distribution and delivery of cell signaling molecules that control bone growth and the spatial and temporal control of bone mineralization. Future studies are needed to focus on potential mechanisms of Col11a1’s effect on mineralization, directly and indirectly.
Mutations in the genes encoding collagen type XI alpha chains result in a number of spondylo-epiphyseal dysplasias [48
]. Among these conditions, are the human chondrodysplasias, Stickler syndrome, Marshall syndrome, Wagner syndrome, and fibrochondrogenesis [49
]. Collagen type XI-related syndromes present a number of clinical skeletal symptoms, including abnormal epiphyseal development, irregularity of the margins of the vertebral bodies, thick calvaria, short stature, and intracranial calcifications (OMIM: 154780, 108300, 143200).
Overall, the changes observed in this study suggest that the absence of Col11a1 gene expression in developing bone resulted in thickened trabecular bone and reduction in endosteal bone turnover, contributing to alterations in marrow cavity formation and an increase in periosteal bone apposition leading to a defect in primary spongiosa formation and a thicker bone collar. These data suggest that Col11a1 may be a regulator of osteogenesis and mineralization of the skeleton during endochondral ossification. The changes to the bone collar observed in these studies suggest a role for Col11a1 in intramembranous bone formation. Future investigations from our laboratory will focus on determining the molecular mechanism of Col11a1 involvement in chondrogenic and osteoblastic differentiation during endochondral and intramembranous ossification.
The impact of a Col11a1-deficiency on the formation of vertebral bodies was an unexpected result. A review of the literature indicated that hemivertebrae formation can be associated with two different types of defects, one that occurs during the prechondral stage of vertebral body formation and one that occurs at the ossification stage. It is interesting to note that Col11a1 mutations have been identified by genome-wide association studies for lower back pain and lumbar disc degeneration in some populations [57