This study examined the effects of testosterone on chondrocytes in vitro in order to determine whether the effects of testosterone were dependent on the stage of chondrocyte maturation and gender specific. Cells derived from male or female rat costochondral growth zone and resting zone cartilage were used as the cell culture model. [3H]Thymidine incorporation, cell number, alkaline phosphatase specific activity, and percent collagen production were used as indicators. Alkaline phosphatase specific activity in matrix vesicles and plasma membranes isolated from male and female chondrocyte cultures was measured to determine which membrane fraction was targeted by the hormone. The role of fetal bovine serum in the culture medium was also addressed. The results demonstrated that testosterone decreases cell number and [3H]thymidine incorporation in male chondrocytes, suggesting that it may promote differentiation of these cells. Alkaline phosphatase specific activity is stimulated in growth zone cells, with no effect on resting zone cells. The increase in enzyme activity is targeted to the matrix vesicles. Cells cultured in serum-free medium exhibit a dose-dependent inhibition of alkaline phosphatase activity when cultured with testosterone, even in the presence of phenol red. Testosterone-dependent stimulation of enzyme activity is seen only in the presence of serum, suggesting that serum factors are also necessary. Testosterone increased the percent collagen production in male cells only, regardless of the cartilage zone of origin. The results of this study indicate that the effects of testosterone are dependent on the time of exposure, presence of serum, and sex and stage of maturation of the chondrocytes. Testosterone-dependent stimulation of alkaline phosphatase specific activity is targeted to matrix vesicles.
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