OBJECTIVE: To determine the mRNA expression of bone morphogenetic protein (BMP)-6 and -2 and a BMP antagonist (Noggin) in horses with osteochondrosis. SAMPLE POPULATION: Samples of articular cartilage from affected stifle or shoulder joints of 10 immature horses with naturally acquired osteochondrosis and corresponding joints of 9 clinically normal horses of similar age; additionally, samples of distal femoral growth plate cartilage and distal femoral articular cartilage were obtained from a normal equine fetus. PROCEDURE: Cartilage specimens were snap-frozen in liquid nitrogen, and total RNA was isolated. Adjacent specimens were fixed in 4% paraformaldehyde for histologic examination. Expression of BMP-6, BMP-2, and Noggin mRNA was evaluated by real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays. Spatial tissue mRNA expression of BMP-6 was determined by in situ hybridization. RESULTS: Nucleotide sequences were obtained for portions of the BMP-6 propeptide and mature peptide region, as well as the signal and mature peptide region of Noggin. Expression of BMP-6, BMP-2, and Noggin mRNA was found to be similar in cartilage from normal and osteochondrosis-affected horses. Spatial expression of BMP-6 correlated with the middle and deep layers of articular cartilage; no differences were observed in overall expression between cartilage specimens from the 2 groups of horses. No expression of BMP-6 was found in the superficial layer, subchondral bone, or osteochondrosis-affected cleft fibrous tissue. CONCLUSIONS AND CLINICAL RELEVANCE: Although these signaling peptides may play important roles in cartilage differentiation, results did not provide evidence to suggest that they are involved in the disease process of osteochondrosis.