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Understanding how connective tissue cells respond to mechanical stimulation is important to human health and disease processes in musculoskeletal diseases. Injury to articular cartilage is a key risk factor in predisposition to tissue damage and degenerative osteoarthritis. Recently, we have discovered that mechanical injury to connective tissues including murine and porcine articular cartilage causes a significant increase in Lysine 63- polyubiquitination. Here we identified the ubiquitin signature that is unique to injured articular cartilage tissue post mechanical injury (the "mechano-ubiquitinome"). A total of 463 ubiquitinated peptides were identified, with an enrichment of ubiquitinated peptides of proteins involved in protein processing in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), also known as the ER-associated degradation (ERAD) response, including YOD1, BRCC3, ATXN3 and USP5 as well as the ER stress regulators, RAD23B, VCP/p97 and Ubiquilin 1. Enrichment of these proteins suggested an injury-induced ER stress response and, for instance, ER stress markers DDIT3/CHOP and BIP/GRP78 were upregulated following cartilage injury on the protein and gene expression levels. Similar ER stress induction was also observed in response to tail fin injury in zebrafish larvae, suggesting a generic response to tissue injury. Furthermore, a rapid increase in global DUB activity following injury and significant activity in human osteoarthritic cartilage was observed using DUB specific activity probes. Combined, these results implicate the involvement of ubiquitination events and activation of a set of DUBs and ER stress regulators in cellular responses to cartilage tissue injury and in osteoarthritic cartilage tissues. This link through the ERAD pathway makes this protein set attractive for further investigation in in vivo models of tissue injury and for targeting in osteoarthritis and related musculoskeletal diseases.

Original publication




Journal article


Mol Cell Proteomics

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