Osteochondrosis is a developmental orthopedic disease affecting growing cartilage in young horses. In this study we compared the proteomes of equine chondrocytes obtained from healthy and osteochondrotic cartilage using a label-free mass spectrometry approach. Quantitative changes of some proteins selected for their involvement in different functional pathways highlighted by the bioinformatics analysis, were validated by western blotting, while biochemical alterations of extracellular matrix were confirmed via Raman spectroscopy analysis. In total 1637 proteins were identified, of which 59 were differentially abundant. Overall, the results highlighted differentially represented proteins involved in metabolic and functional pathways that may be related to the failure of the endochondral ossification process occurring in osteochondrosis. In particular, we identified proteins involved in extracellular matrix degradation and organization, vitamin metabolism, osteoblast differentiation, apoptosis, protein folding and localization, signalling and gene expression modulation and lysosomal activities. These results provide valuable new insights to elucidate the underlying molecular mechanisms associated with the development and progression of osteochondrosis. Significance: Osteochondrosis is a common articular disorder in young horses mainly due to defects in endochondral ossification. The pathogenesis of osteochondrosis is still poorly understood and only a limited number of proteomic studies have been conducted. This study provides a comprehensive characterization of proteomic alterations occurring in equine osteochondrotic chondrocytes, the only resident cell type that modulates differentiation and maturation of articular cartilage. The results evidenced alterations in abundance of proteins involved in functional and metabolic pathways and in extracellular matrix remodelling. These findings could help clarify some molecular aspects of osteochondrosis and open new fields of research for elucidating the pathogenesis of this disease.
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