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Keywords:

  • decorin;
  • biglycan;
  • collagen fibrils;
  • double-knockout;
  • Ehlers-Danlos

Abstract

Decorin (dcn) and biglycan (bgn), two members of the family of small leucine-rich proteoglycans (SLRPs), are the predominant proteoglycans expressed in skin and bone, respectively. Targeted disruption of the dcn gene results in skin laxity and fragility, whereas disruption of the bgn gene results in reduced skeletal growth and bone mass leading to generalized osteopenia, particularly in older animals. Here, we report that bgn deficiency leads to structural abnormality in collagen fibrils in bone, dermis, and tendon, and to a “subclinical” cutaneous phenotype with thinning of the dermis but without overt skin fragility. A comparative ultrastructural study of different tissues from bgn- and dcn-deficient mice revealed that bgn and dcn deficiency have similar effects on collagen fibril structure in the dermis but not in bone. Ultrastructural and phenotypic analysis of newly generated bgn/dcn double-knockout (KO) mice revealed that the effects of dcn and bgn deficiency are additive in the dermis and synergistic in bone. Severe skin fragility and marked osteopenia characterize the phenotype of double-KO animals in which progeroid changes are observed also in the skin. Ultrastructural analysis of bone collagen fibrils in bone of double-KO mice reveals a complete loss of the basic fibril geometry with the emergence of marked “serrated fibril” morphology. The phenotype of the double-KO animal mimics directly the rare progeroid variant of human Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), in which skin fragility, progeroid changes in the skin (reduced hypodermis), and osteopenia concur as a result of impaired glycosaminoglycan (GAG) linking to bgn and dcn core proteins. Our data show that changes in collagen fibril morphology reminiscent of those occurring in the varied spectrum of human EDS are induced by both bgn deficiency and dcn deficiency in mice. The effects of an individual SLRP deficiency are tissue specific, and the expression of a gross phenotype depends on multiple variables including level of expression of individual SLRPs in different tissues and synergisms between different SLRPs (and likely other macromolecules) in determining matrix structure and functional properties.