Gene expression of TGF-beta, TGF-beta receptor, and extracellular matrix proteins during membranous bone healing in rats PLASTIC AND RECONSTRUCTIVE SURGERY Steinbrech, D. S., Mehrara, B. J., Rowe, N. M., Dudziak, M. E., Luchs, J. S., Saadeh, P. B., Gittes, G. K., Longaker, M. T. 2000; 105 (6): 2028-2038


Poorly healing mandibular fractures and osteotomies can be troublesome complications of craniomaxillofacial trauma and reconstructive surgery. Gene therapy may offer ways of enhancing bone formation by altering the expression of desired growth factors and extracellular matrix molecules. The elucidation of suitable candidate genes for therapeutic intervention necessitates investigation of the endogenously expressed patterns of growth factors during normal (i.e., successful) fracture repair. Transforming growth factor beta1 (TGF-beta1), its receptor (Tbeta-RII), and the extracellular matrix proteins osteocalcin and type I collagen are thought to be important in long-bone (endochondral) formation, fracture healing, and osteoblast proliferation. However, the spatial and temporal expression patterns of these molecules during membranous bone repair remain unknown. In this study, 24 adult rats underwent mandibular osteotomy with rigid external fixation. In addition, four identically treated rats that underwent sham operation (i.e., no osteotomy) were used as controls. Four experimental animals were then killed at each time point (3, 5, 7, 9, 23, and 37 days after the procedure) to examine gene expression of TGF-beta1 and Tbeta-RII, osteocalcin, and type I collagen. Northern blot analysis was used to compare gene expression of these molecules in experimental animals with that in control animals (i.e., nonosteotomized; n = 4). In addition, TGF-beta1 and T-RII proteins were immunolocalized in an additional group of nine animals killed on postoperative days 3, 7, and 37. The results of Northern blot analysis demonstrated a moderate increase (1.7 times) in TGF-beta1 expression 7 days postoperatively; TGF-beta1 expression returned thereafter to near baseline levels. Tbeta-RII mRNA expression was downregulated shortly after osteotomy but then increased, reaching a peak of 1.8 times the baseline level on postoperative day 9. Osteocalcin mRNA expression was dramatically downregulated shortly after osteotomy and remained low during the early phases of fracture repair. Osteocalcin expression trended slowly upward as healing continued, reaching peak expression by day 37 (1.7 times the control level). In contrast, collagen type IalphaI mRNA expression was acutely downregulated shortly after osteotomy, peaked on postoperative days 5, and then decreased at later time points. Histologic samples from animals killed 3 days after osteotomy demonstrated TGF-beta1 protein localized to inflammatory cells and extracellular matrix within the fracture gap, periosteum, and peripheral soft tissues. On postoperative day 7, TGF-beta1 staining was predominantly localized to the osteotomized bone edges, periosteum, surrounding soft tissues, and residual inflammatory cells. By postoperative day 37, complete bony healing was observed, and TGF-beta1 staining was localized to the newly formed bone matrix and areas of remodeling. On postoperative day 3, Tbeta-RII immunostaining localized to inflammatory cells within the fracture gap, periosteal cells, and surrounding soft tissues. By day 7, Tbeta-RII staining localized to osteoblasts of the fracture gap but was most intense within osteoblasts and mesenchymal cells of the osteotomized bone edges. On postoperative day 37, Tbeta-RII protein was seen in osteocytes, osteoblasts, and the newly formed periosteum in the remodeling bone. These observations agree with those of previous in vivo studies of endochondral bone formation, growth, and healing. In addition, these results implicate TGF-beta1 biological activity in the regulation of osteoblast migration, differentiation, and proliferation during mandibular fracture repair. Furthermore, comparison of these data with gene expression during mandibular distraction osteogenesis may provide useful insights into the treatment of poorly healing fractures because distraction osteogenesis has been shown to be effective in the management of these difficult clinical cases.

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