CCN2: A master regulator of the genesis of bone and cartilage

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CCN family member 2 (CCN2), also known as connective tissue growth factor (CTGF), has been suggested to be an endochondral ossification genetic factor that has been termed "ecogenin", because in vitro studies revealed that CCN2 promotes the proliferation and differentiation of growth-plate chondrocytes, osteoblasts, and vascular endothelial cells, all of which play important roles in endochondral ossification. In addition to its action toward these three types of cells, CCN2 was recently found to promote the formation of osteoclasts in vitro, which cells play an important role in the replacement of cartilage by bone during endochondral ossification, thus strengthening the "ecogenin" hypothesis. For confirmation of this hypothesis, transgenic mice over-expressing CCN2 in cartilage were generated. The results proved the hypothesis; i.e., the over-expression of CCN2 in cartilage stimulated the proliferation and differentiation of growth-plate chondrocytes, resulting in the promotion of endochondral ossification. In addition to its "ecogenin" action, CCN2 had earlier been shown to promote the differentiation of various cartilage cells including articular cartilage cells. In accordance with these findings, cartilage-specific overexpression of CCN2 in the transgenic mice was shown to protect against the development of osteoarthritic changes in aging articular cartilage. Thus, CCN2 may also play a role as an anti-aging (chondroprotective) factor, stabilizing articular cartilage. CCN2 also had been shown to promote intramembranous ossification, regenerate cartilage and bone, and induce angiogenesis in vivo. For understanding of the molecular mechanism underlying such multifunctional actions, yeast two-hybrid analysis, protein array analysis, solid-phase binding assay, and surface plasmon resonance (SPR) analysis have been used to search for binding partners of CCN2. ECMs such as fibronectin and aggrecan, growth factors including BMPs and FGF2 and their receptors such as FGFR1 and 2 and RANK, as well as CCN family members themselves, were shown to bind to CCN2. Regarding the interaction of CCN2 with some of them, various binding modules in the CCN2 molecule have been identified. Therefore, the numerous biological actions of CCN2 would depend on what kinds of binding partners and what levels of them are present in the microenvironment of different types of cells, as well as on the state of differentiation of these cells. Through this mechanism, CCN2 would orchestrate various signaling pathways, acting as a signal conductor to promote harmonized skeletal growth and regeneration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-201
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Cell Communication and Signaling
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2013


  • Articular cartilage
  • CCN family
  • CCN2
  • CCN3
  • CTGF
  • Chondrocytes
  • Extracellular matrix
  • Growth factors
  • Growth plate
  • Ossification
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Osteoblasts
  • Osteoclasts
  • Signaling
  • Vascular endothelial cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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