To analyze the growth-related changes in extracellular matrix components in temporomandibular joint (TMJ) discs, the expression and localization of the core protein of a large chondroitin sulphate proteoglycan, versican, in rat TMJ discs during postnatal development (2-32 weeks) were examined using Western blot analysis, real-time quantitative PCR and immunohistochemistry. Western blot analysis showed that rat TMJ discs predominantly expressed one isoform (V1) and the core protein sharply increased after birth, reached a peak at 8 weeks, and then gradually decreased up to 32 weeks. Real-time quantitative PCR with TaqMan probes indicated that mRNA expression of versican was highest at 2 weeks and gradually decreased with growth. An immunohistochemical study showed that staining for versican was weak and evenly distributed in TMJ discs at 2 weeks. Regional differences in staining for versican became prominent after 8 weeks; staining was intense in the anterior and posterior peripheral attachments, and weak in the central part of the discs. These results demonstrate that growth-related changes and regional differences exist in the expression of versican in the TMJ discs of growing rats, and these probably reflect the changes in the biomechanical environment caused by the development of orofacial functions.
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