• degenerative joint disease;
  • fibrocartilage;
  • relaxin;
  • estrogen;
  • progesterone;
  • matrix metalloproteinases;
  • extracellular matrix

Our long-term goal is to understand the mechanisms by which relaxin and estrogen potentially contribute to joint diseases, particularly those afflicting the fibrocartilaginous temporomandibular joint (TMJ). Previously, we showed that relaxin produces a dose-dependent induction of tissue-degrading enzymes of the matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) family, specifically MMP-1 (collagenase-1), MMP-3 (stromelysin-1), MMP-9 (92-kDa gelatinase), and MMP-13 (collagenase-3) in cell isolates and tissue explants from TMJ fibrocartilage. The induction of these MMPs is accompanied by loss of collagen and glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), which was blocked by a pan-MMP inhibitor. We also found the targeted in vivo loss of collagen and GAGs in TMJ discs of ovariectomized rabbits treated with β-estradiol, relaxin, or both hormones together. Progesterone attenuated the induction of MMPs and matrix loss by relaxin and estrogen. The modulation of matrix composition in TMJ fibrocartilage by these hormones was similar to that observed in the pubic symphysis and differed from that of the knee meniscus. The two target tissues showing the greatest modulation of MMPs and matrix loss, namely, the TMJ disc and pubic symphysis, had similar expression profiles of the estrogen receptors α and β, relaxin-1 receptor (RXFP1, LGR7), and insulin-like peptide 3 receptor (RXFP2, LGR8) and these profiles differed from those in cells from the knee meniscus. These findings suggest a novel model for targeted tissue turnover of cartilage of specific joints through hormone-mediated induction of select MMPs.