Theranostics 2019; 9(24):7108-7121. doi:10.7150/thno.38182 This issue

Research Paper

Kartogenin hydrolysis product 4-aminobiphenyl distributes to cartilage and mediates cartilage regeneration

Shuai Zhang1, Peilin Hu1, Tao Liu1,2, Zhen Li1,3, Yongcan Huang4, Jinqi Liao1, Md Rana Hamid1, Liru Wen1, Ting Wang5, Cuiping Mo5, Mauro Alini3, Sibylle Grad3, Tianfu Wang6, Di Chen7, Guangqian Zhou1✉

1. Department of Medical Cell Biology and Genetics, Guangdong Key Laboratory of Genomic Stability and Disease Prevention, Shenzhen Key Laboratory of Anti-aging and Regenerative Medicine, and Shenzhen Engineering Laboratory of Regenerative Technologies for Orthopaedic Diseases, Health Sciences Center, Shenzhen University, Shenzhen, 518060, China.
2. Department of Biotherapy and Oncology, Shenzhen Luohu People's Hospital, Shenzhen, 518001, China.
3. AO Research Institute Davos, Davos, Switzerland.
4. Shenzhen Engineering Laboratory of Orthopaedic Regenerative Technologies, Departments of Orthopaedics, Peking University Shenzhen Hospital, Shenzhen, Guangdong, 510086, China.
5. Shenzhen Apls Cell Technologies LTD., Yinxing Scientific Building, Lonhua District, Shenzhen, 510086, China.
6. Guangdong Key Laboratory for Biomedical Measurements & Ultrasound Imaging, School of Biomedical Engineering, Health Sciences Center, Shenzhen University, Shenzhen, 518060, China.
7. Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, IL 60612, USA.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( See for full terms and conditions.
Zhang S, Hu P, Liu T, Li Z, Huang Y, Liao J, Hamid MR, Wen L, Wang T, Mo C, Alini M, Grad S, Wang T, Chen D, Zhou G. Kartogenin hydrolysis product 4-aminobiphenyl distributes to cartilage and mediates cartilage regeneration. Theranostics 2019; 9(24):7108-7121. doi:10.7150/thno.38182. Available from

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Graphic abstract

Rationale The small molecule Kartogenin (KGN) promotes cartilage regeneration in osteoarthritis (OA) by activating stem cells differentiation, but its pharmacological mode-of-action remains unclear. KGN can be cleaved into 4-aminobiphenyl (4-ABP) and phthalic acid (PA) following enzymolysis of an amide bond. Therefore, this study investigated whether 4-ABP or PA exerted the same action as KGN.

Methods KGN, 4-ABP and PA were analyzed in cartilage of mice after oral, intravenous or intra-articular administration of KGN by liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry method. Their effect on proliferation and chondrogenic differentiation of mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) was evaluated in vitro. Furthermore, their effect on cartilage preservation was tested in mice OA model induced by destabilization of medial meniscus. OA severity was quantified using OARSI histological scoring. Transcriptional analysis was used to find the possible targets of the chemicals, which were further validated.

Results We demonstrated that while oral or intra-articular KGN delivery effectively ameliorated OA phenotypes in mice, only 4-ABP was detectable in cartilage. 4-ABP could induce chondrogenic differentiation and proliferation of MSC in vitro and promote cartilage repair in OA mouse models mainly by increasing the number of CD44+/CD105+ stem-cell and prevention of matrix loss. These effect of 4-ABP was stronger than that of KGN. Transcriptional profiling of 4-ABP-stimulated MSC suggested that RPS6KA2 and the PI3K-Akt pathway were 4-ABP targets; 4-ABP could activate the PI3K-Akt pathway to promote MSC proliferation and repair OA injury, which was blocked in RPS6KA2-knockdown MSC or RPS6KA2-deficient mice.

Conclusion 4-ABP bio-distribution in cartilage promotes proliferation and chondrogenic differentiation of MSC, and repairs osteoarthritic lesions via PI3K-Akt pathway activation.

Keywords: kartogenin, 4-aminobiphenyl, stem cells, osteoarthritis, RPS6KA2