Open Access Research article

SOX11 contributes to the regulation of GDF5 in joint maintenance

Akinori Kan12, Toshiyuki Ikeda2, Atsushi Fukai2, Takumi Nakagawa2, Kozo Nakamura2, Ung-il Chung3, Hiroshi Kawaguchi2* and Clifford J Tabin1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School, 77 Avenue Louis Pasteur, Boston, MA, 02115, USA

2 Sensory & Motor System Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Tokyo, Hongo 7-3-1, Bunkyo, Tokyo 113-8655, Japan

3 Bone & Cartilage Regeneration, Faculty of Medicine, University of Tokyo, Hongo 7-3-1, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, 113-8655, Japan

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BMC Developmental Biology 2013, 13:4  doi:10.1186/1471-213X-13-4

Published: 29 January 2013



Individual skeletal elements of the vertebrate limbs arise through a segmentation process introducing joints in specific locations. However, the molecular pathways controlling joint formation and subsequent joint maintenance are largely unknown. In this study, we focused on SOX11, and its contribution to the regulation of GDF5, a secreted signal necessary for proper joint formation and postnatal joint homeostasis.


Sox11 is initially expressed broadly in the murine cartilage condensations at early stages of skeletal development, but its expression is specifically increased in the forming joint interzone as is forms. SOX11 overexpression can directly activate GDF5 expression both in vitro and in micromass cell cultures prepared from chick limb buds. Conserved SOX family binding sites are present in the 5’ UTR region of the GDF5 gene and we show SOX11 can specifically bind to one of them. While misexpression of Sox11 in developing chick limbs through RCAS virus infection does not induce Gdf5 expression in ectopic locations, it does enhance its expression. To explore the roles of Sox11 in joint homeostasis, we analyzed adult knee joints in an osteoarthritis mouse model where the medial meniscus and the medial collateral ligament were removed. We also analyzed knee joints from human subjects who underwent total knee replacement surgery. We find that SOX11 is mainly expressed in the weight-bearing areas of knee joints, and its expression is decreased in degraded cartilage during progression of knee osteoarthritis in both mice and humans.


This work implicates SOX11 as a potential regulator of GDF5 expression in joint maintenance and suggests a possible role in the pathogenesis of osteoarthritis.

SOX11; GDF5; Joint maintenance; Articular cartilage