Ezh2 was genetically inactivated in the mesenchymal, osteoblastic, and chondrocytic lineages in mice using the Prrx1-Cre,Osx1-Cre, and Col2a1-Cre drivers, respectively. Wild-type and conditional knockout mice were phenotypically assessed by grossmorphology, histology, and micro-CT imaging. Ezh2-deficient chondrocytes in micromass culture models were evaluated usingRNA-sequencing, histologic evaluation, and western blotting. Aged mice with Ezh2 deficiency were also evaluated for prematuredevelopment of osteoarthritis using radiographic analysis.
Ezh2 deficiency in murine chondrocytes reduced bone density at 4 weeks of age, although caused no other gross developmentaleffects. Knockdown of Ezh2 in chondrocyte micromass cultures resulted in a global reduction in trimethylation of histone 3lysine 27 (H3K27me3) and altered differentiation in vitro. RNA-seq analysis revealed enrichment of an osteogenic gene expressionprofile in Ezh2 deficient chondrocytes. Joint development proceeded normally in the absence of Ezh2 in chondrocytes withoutinducing excessive hypertrophy or premature osteoarthritis in vivo.
In summary, loss of Ezh2 reduced H3K27me3 levels, increased expression of osteogenic genes in chondrocytes, and resulted ina transient post-natal bone phenotype. Remarkably, Ezh2 activity is dispensable for normal chondrocyte maturation and endochondralossification in vivo, even though it appears to have a critical role during early stages of mesenchymal lineage-commitment.