Deficiency in vitamin D (Vit D) has been widely associated with several musculoskeletal diseases. However, the effects of the exogenous Vit D supplementation are still unclear in the prevention of the latter, especially in the cartilage developmental period. The aim of this study was to compare the effects of Vit D supplementation and restriction on the articular cartilage development in healthy young sedentary rats. To this aim, twelve nine-week-old healthy Sprague-Dawley male rats were subjected to Vit D-based experimental diets: R, with a content in Vit D of 1400 IU/kg; R-DS, with a Vit D supplementation (4000 IU/kg); R-DR, with a Vit D restriction (0 IU/kg) for 10 weeks. The morphology, thickness and expression of cartilage-associated molecules such as collagen type II/X, lubricin and Vit D receptor (VDR), were assessed. Histological, histomorphometric and immunohistochemical evaluations were made on rat tibial cartilage samples. In the present experimental model, restriction of Vit D intake induced: The lower thickness of cartilage compared both to R (p = < 0.0001) and R-DS (p = < 0.0001); reduction of proteoglycans in the extracellular matrix (ECM) compared both to R (p = 0.0359) and R-DS (p = < 0.0001); decreased collagen II (Col II) with respect both to R (p = 0.0076) and R-DS (p = 0.0016); increased collagen X (Col X) immunoexpression when compared both to R (p = < 0.0001) and R-DS (p = < 0.0001), confirming data from the literature. Instead, supplementation of Vit D intake induced: Higher cartilage thickness with respect both to R (p = 0.0071) and R-DR (p = < 0.0001); increase of ECM proteoglycan deposition compared both to R (p = 0.0175) and R-DR (p = < 0.0001); higher immunoexpression of lubricin with respect both to R (p = 0.001) and R-DR (p = 0.0008). These results suggest that Vit D supplementation with diet, already after 10 weeks, has a favorable impact on the articular cartilage thickness development, joint lubrication and ECM fibers deposition in a young healthy rat model.
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