Development of a Cartilage Oligomeric Matrix Protein Neo-Epitope Assay for the Detection of Intra-Thecal Tendon Disease

Smith, R K W and Önnerfjord, P and Holmgren, K and di Grado, S and Dudhia, J (2020) Development of a Cartilage Oligomeric Matrix Protein Neo-Epitope Assay for the Detection of Intra-Thecal Tendon Disease. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 21 (6). p. 2155. ISSN 1422-0067

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Abstract

The diagnosis of tendon injury relies on clinical signs and diagnostic imaging but imaging is subjective and does not always correlate with clinical signs. A molecular marker would potentially offer a sensitive and specific diagnostic tool that could also provide objective assessment of healing for the comparison of different treatments. Cartilage Oligomeric Matrix Protein (COMP) has been used as a molecular marker for osteoarthritis in humans and horses but assays for the protein in tendon sheath synovial fluids have shown overlap between horses affected by tendinopathy and controls. We hypothesized that quantifying a COMP neoepitope would be more discriminatory of injury. COMP fragments were purified from synovial fluids of horses with intra-thecal tendon injuries and media from equine tendon explants, and mass spectrometry of a consistent and abundant fragment revealed a ~100 kDa COMP fragment with a new N-terminus at the 78th amino-acid (NH2-TPRVSVRP) located just outside the junctional region of the protein. A competitive inhibition ELISA based on a polyclonal antibody raised to this sequence yielded more than a 10-fold rise in the mean neoepitope levels for tendinopathy cases compared to controls (5.3 ± 1.3 µg/mL (n = 7) versus 58.8 ± 64.3 µg/mL (n = 13); p = 0.002). However, there was some cross-reactivity of the neoepitope polyclonal antiserum with intact COMP, which could be blocked by a peptide spanning the neoepitope. The modified assay demonstrated a lower concentration but a significant > 500-fold average rise with tendon injury (2.5 ± 2.2 ng/mL (n = 6) versus 1029.8 ± 2188.8 ng/ml (n = 14); p = 0.013). This neo-epitope assay therefore offers a potentially useful marker for clinical use.