Introduction: Previous studies have indicated that transforming growth factor β (TGF-β) signaling has a critical role in cartilage homeostasis and repair, yet the mechanisms of TGF-β's chondroprotective effects are not known. Our objective in this study was to identify downstream targets of TGF-β that could act to maintain biochemical and biomechanical properties of cartilage.Methods: Tibial joints from 20-week-old mice that express a dominant-negative mutation of the TGF-β type II receptor (DNIIR) were graded histologically for osteoarthritic changes and tested by indentation to evaluate their mechanical properties. To identify gene targets of TGF-β, microarray analysis was performed using bovine articular chondrocytes grown in micromass culture that were either treated with TGF-β or left untreated. Phosphoadenosine phosphosynthetase 2 (PAPSS2) was identified as a TGF-β-responsive gene. Papss2 expression is crucial for proper sulfation of cartilage matrix, and its deficiency causes skeletal defects in mice and humans that overlap with those seen in mice with mutations in TGF-β-signaling genes. Regulation of Papss2 was verified by real time RT-PCR and Western blot analyses. Alterations in sulfation of glycosaminoglycans were analyzed by critical electrolyte concentration and Alcian blue staining and immunofluorescence for chondroitin-4-sulfate, unsulfated chondroitin and the aggrecan core protein.Results: DNIIR mutants showed reduced mechanical properties and osteoarthritis-like changes when compared to wild-type control mice. Microarray analysis identified a group of genes encoding matrix-modifying enzymes that were regulated by TGF-β. Papss2 was upregulated in bovine articular chondrocytes after treatment with TGF-β and downregulated in cartilage from DNIIR mice. Articular cartilage in DNIIR mice demonstrated reduced Alcian blue staining at critical electrolyte concentrations and reduced chondroitin-4-sulfate staining. Staining for unsulfated chondroitin sulfate was increased, whereas staining for the aggrecan core protein was comparable in DNIIR and wild-type mice.Conclusion: TGF-β maintains biomechanical properties and regulates expression of Papss2 and sulfation of glycosaminoglycans in mouse articular cartilage. © 2012 Ramaswamy et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.