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Molecular Biology Laboratory

There are two major research areas in Dr. Chen’s laboratory. Both are closely related to skeletal development, fracture healing, and cartilage & bone repair. In one area, Dr. Chen’s laboratory is studying how mechanical and chemical signals regulate cartilage growth and regeneration. Specifically, the laboratory is identifying and analyzing major components of the signal transduction pathway from extracellular matrix to the nucleus, which regulate chondrocyte proliferation and differentiation. As a result of this investigation, the important role of a stress-activated p38 MAP kinase in regulating the chondrocyte terminal differentiation- hypertrophy, has been discovered (Zhen et al, J.Biol Chem, 2001); and essential components in the mechanotransduction pathway to mediate and convert mechanical signals to biological response in cartilage have been identified (Wu and Chen, Exp. Cell Res. 2000, Wu et al., J. Biol Chem, 2001).

In the second area, the laboratory is focusing on the mechanisms of the assembly of extracellular matrix molecules that are involved in endochondral bone formation and skeletal repair process. In particular, the functions of a novel matrix protein family called matrilins are being studied. It has been shown by the laboratory that matrilins form a pericellular filamentous network connecting collagens and proteoglycans in the matrix and integrins in the cell membrane (Chen et al, Mol Biol Cell, 1999; Zhang and Chen, J. Biol Chem, 2000). Thus matrilins may play an important role for mechanical integrity of the tissues in which they are present, including cartilage, bone, skin, muscle, and lung.

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