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J Bone Miner Res. 2012 Feb;27(2):429-42.

New insights into the molecular mechanism of multiple synostoses syndrome (SYNS): mutation within the GDF5 knuckle epitope causes noggin-resistance.

By: Schwaerzer GK, Hiepen C, Schrewe H, Nickel J, Ploeger F, Sebald W, Mueller T, Knaus P.

Growth and differentiation factor 5 (GDF5), a member of the bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) family, is essential for cartilage, bone, and joint formation. Antagonists such as noggin counteract BMP signaling by covering the ligand's BMP type I (BMPRI) and type II (BMPRII, ActRII, ActRIIB) interaction sites. The mutation GDF5-S94N is located within the BMPRII interaction site, the so-called knuckle epitope, and was identified in patients suffering from multiple synostoses syndrome (SYNS). SYNS is characterized by progressive symphalangism, carpal/tarsal fusions, deafness and mild facial dysmorphism. Here we present a novel molecular mechanism of a GDF5 mutation affecting chondrogenesis and osteogenesis. GDF5-S94N exhibits impaired binding to BMPRII causing alleviated Smad and non-Smad signaling and reduced chondrogenic differentiation of ATDC5 cells. Surprisingly, chondrogenesis in mouse micromass cultures was strongly enhanced by GDF5-S94N. By using quantitative techniques (SPR, reporter gene assay, ALP assay, qPCR), we uncovered that this gain of function is caused by strongly reduced affinity of GDF5-S94N to the BMP/GDF antagonist noggin and the consequential lack of noggin inhibition. Thus, since noggin is upregulated during chondrogenic differentiation, GDF5-S94N exceeds the GDF5 action, which results in the phenotypic outcome of SYNS. The detailed molecular characterization of GDF5-S94N as a noggin-resistant growth factor illustrates the potential of GDF5 mutants in applications with defined therapeutical needs.

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