RhoA activation and nuclearization marks loss of chondrocyte phenotype in crosstalk with Wnt pathway

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De-differentiation comprises a major drawback for the use of autologous chondrocytes in cartilage repair. Here, we investigate the role of RhoA and canonical Wnt signaling in chondrocyte phenotype. Chondrocyte de-differentiation is accompanied by an upregulation and nuclear localization of RhoA. Effectors of canonical Wnt signaling including β-catenin and YAP/TAZ are upregulated in de-differentiating chondrocytes in a Rho-dependent manner. Inhibition of Rho activation with C3 transferase inhibits nuclear localization of RhoA, induces expression of chondrogenic markers on 2D and enhances the chondrogenic effect of 3D culturing. Upregulation of chondrogenic markers by Rho inhibition is accompanied by loss of canonical Wnt signaling markers in 3D or on 2D whereas treatment of chondrocytes with Wnt-3a abrogates this effect. However, induction of canonical Wnt signaling inhibits chondrogenic markers on 2D but enhances chondrogenic re-differentiation on 2D with C3 transferase or in 3D. These data provide insights on the context-dependent role of RhoA and Wnt signaling in de-differentiation and on mechanisms to induce chondrogenic markers for therapeutic approaches.

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