Journal of Bone and Mineral Research
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Loss of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) activity in mice alters growth plate development, impairs endochondral ossification, and retards growth. However, the detailed mechanism by which EGFR regulates endochondral bone formation is unknown. Here, we show that administration of an EGFR-specific small-molecule inhibitor, gefitinib, into 1-month-old rats for 7 days produced profound defects in long bone growth plate cartilage characterized by epiphyseal growth plate thickening and massive accumulation of hypertrophic chondrocytes. Immunostaining demonstrated that growth plate chondrocytes express EGFR, but endothelial cells and osteoclasts show little to no expression. Gefitinib did not alter chondrocyte proliferation or differentiation and vascular invasion into the hypertrophic cartilage. However, osteoclast recruitment and differentiation at the chondro-osseous junction were attenuated owing to decreased RANKL expression in the growth plate. Moreover, gefitinib treatment inhibited the expression of matrix metalloproteinases (MMP-9, -13, and -14), increased the amount of collagen fibrils, and decreased degraded extracellular matrix products in the growth plate. In vitro, the EGFR ligand transforming growth factor α (TGF-α) strongly stimulated RANKL and MMPs expression and suppressed osteoprotegerin (OPG) expression in primary chondrocytes. In addition, a mouse model of cartilage-specific EGFR inactivation exhibited a similar phenotype of hypertrophic cartilage enlargement. Together our data demonstrate that EGFR signaling supports osteoclastogenesis at the chondro-osseous junction and promotes chondrogenic expression of MMPs in the growth plate. Therefore, we conclude that EGFR signaling plays an essential role in the remodeling of growth plate cartilage extracellular matrix into bone during endochondral ossification. © 2011 American Society for Bone and Mineral Research.