Type XI collagen is predominantly found in cartilage. However, expression of the pro-α2(XI) collagen gene (COL11A2) has recently been detected in various non-cartilaginous tissues. We identified the differentiation stage at which COL11A2 was expressed in cultured fetal rat calvarial (FRC) cells and in rat femoral fracture calluses in order to investigate the involvement of COL11A2 during bone formation in vitro and in vivo. We also studied the alternative splicing of exons 6-8 in FRC cells and fracture calluses. In FRC cells, mineralized nodules stained with von Kossa stain were observed from day 9 after confluence. COL11A2 was highly expressed on days 0 and 5, but the expression levels were rapidly decreased on day 9 by Northern blot analysis. During rat femoral fracture repair, intramembranous ossification proceeded and newly formed woven bone was observed on the cortex on day 7 after fracture. In situ hybridization showed that COL11A2 signals were detected in osteoblastic cells in the newly formed woven bone. According to the maturation and remodeling of the woven bone into the trabecular bone, the distribution of the signal for that COL11A2 mRNA was limited to the superficial osteoblastic cells of the newly formed trabecular bone. These results demonstrated that COL11A2 was expressed in relatively immature osteoblastic cells during bone formation in vitro and in vivo. RT-PCR showed that the shortest band corresponding to mRNA lacking exons 6-8 was clearly detected when using RNA from soft calluses. In contrast, the largest band corresponding to mRNA with exons 6-8 was predominant when using RNA from FRC cells or from hard calluses on days 7 and 14. These results indicate that the splicing pattern of exons 6-8 in osteoblastic cells is different from the pattern in chondrocytes.
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