Mechanical stimuli are known to have major influences on chondrocyte function. The molecular events that regulate chondrocyte responses to mechanical stimulation are beginning to be understood. In vitro analyses have allowed identification of mechanotransduction pathways that control molecular and biochemical responses of human articular chondrocytes to cyclical mechanical stimulation. These studies have shown that human articular chondrocytes use alpha 5 beta 1 integrin as a mechanoreceptor. After stimulation of this integrin by mechanical stimulation, there is activation of a signal cascade, involving stretch-activated ion channels, the actin cytoskeleton and tyrosine phosphorylation of the focal adhesion complex molecules pp125 focal adhesion kinase and paxillin, and beta-catenin. Subsequently, there is secretion of interleukin-4, which acts in an autocrine manner via Type II receptors, to induce membrane hyperpolarization, increase levels of aggrecan messenger ribonucleic acid, and decrease levels of matrix metalloproteinase 3 messenger ribonucleic acid. Chondrocytes from osteoarthritic cartilage also use alpha 5 beta 1 integrin as a mechanoreceptor, but downstream signaling cascades and cell responses including changes in aggrecan messenger ribonucleic acid are different. Abnormalities of chondroprotective mechanotransduction pathways in osteoarthritis may contribute to disease progression.

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