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The meniscus plays important roles in proper knee function. It was recently reported that meniscus degeneration was associated with progression of osteoarthritis (OA). However, little is known about the effects of degradative enzymes on the meniscus matrix, primarily collagen type I and aggrecan, during OA. This study examined the effects of metalloproteinase (MMP) and aggrecanase on the destruction of aggrecan in the human meniscus. Eighteen trimmed meniscus portions were collected during partial menisectomy. Specimens were categorized into 3 groups according to the modified Copenhaver classification based on the degrees of damage to collagen bundles. Histological and immunohistochemical studies were conducted. Sections were stained with antibodies against MMP-3, aggrecanase 1 and 2, and their specific cleavage sites of aggrecan. Their localizations and staining ratios in the inner superficial and outer deep zones of the meniscus were determined separately. The population of chondrocyte-like cells increased with degeneration of the meniscus. MMP-3 and aggrecanase 1 and 2 are primarily expressed and activated in chondrocyte-like cells. MMP-3 expression and activation increased with degeneration and the population of chondrocyte-like cells. Changes in aggrecanase 1 expression with the degeneration were not clearly detected, whereas the expression of aggrecanase 2 was associated with progression of degeneration. MMP-3 and aggrecanases, particularly aggrecanase 2, expressed in chondrocyte-like cells could play important roles in aggrecan degradation in the human meniscus.
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