Matrix vesicles isolated from fourth-pasage cultures of chondrocytes were tested for their ability to induce hydroxyapatite formation in a gelatin gel in order to gain insight into the function of matrix vesicles in in situ mineralization. These matrix vesicles did not appear to be hydroxyapatite nucleators per se since the extent of mineral accumulation in the gel diffusion system was not altered by the presence of matrix vesicles alone, and in the vesicle containing gels, mineral crystals were formed whether associated with vesicles or not. In gels with these matrix vesicles and β-glycerophosphate, despite the presence of alkaline phosphatase activity, there was no increase in mineral deposition. This suggested that in the gel system these culture-derived vesicles did not increase local phosphate concentrations. However, when known inhibitors of mineral crystal formation and growth (proteoglycan aggregates [4 mg/ml], or ATP [1 mM], or both proteoglycan and ATP) were included in the gel, more mineral was deposited in gels with the vesicles than in comparable gels without vesicles, indicating that enzymes within these vesicles were functioning to remove the inhibition. These data support the suggestion that one function of the extracellular matrix vesicle is to transport enzymes for matrix modification.
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