Elucidating mechano-pathology of osteoarthritis: transcriptome-wide differences in mechanically stressed aged human cartilage explants | 16-08-2021 | BMC

Evelyn Houtman, Margo Tuerlings, Janne Riechelman, Eka H. E. D. Suchiman, Robert J. P. van der Wal, Rob G. H. H. Nelissen, Hailiang Mei, Yolande F. M. Ramos, Rodrigo Coutinho de Almeida & Ingrid Meulenbelt


Failing of intrinsic chondrocyte repair after mechanical stress is known as one of the most important initiators of osteoarthritis. Nonetheless, insight into these early mechano-pathophysiological processes in age-related human articular cartilage is still lacking. Such insights are needed to advance clinical development. To highlight important molecular processes of osteoarthritis mechano-pathology, the transcriptome-wide changes following injurious mechanical stress on human aged osteochondral explants were characterized.


Following mechanical stress at a strain of 65% (65%MS) on human osteochondral explants (n65%MS = 14 versus ncontrol = 14), RNA sequencing was performed. Differential expression analysis between control and 65%MS was performed to determine mechanical stress-specific changes. Enrichment for pathways and protein-protein interactions was analyzed with Enrichr and STRING.


We identified 156 genes significantly differentially expressed between control and 65%MS human osteochondral explants. Of note, IGFBP5 (FC = 6.01; FDR = 7.81 × 10−3) and MMP13 (FC = 5.19; FDR = 4.84 × 10−2) were the highest upregulated genes, while IGFBP6 (FC = 0.19; FDR = 3.07 × 10−4) was the most downregulated gene. Protein-protein interactions were significantly higher than expected by chance (P = 1.44 × 10−15 with connections between 116 out of 156 genes). Pathway analysis showed, among others, enrichment for cellular senescence, insulin-like growth factor (IGF) I and II binding, and focal adhesion.


Our results faithfully represent transcriptomic wide consequences of mechanical stress in human aged articular cartilage with MMP13, IGF binding proteins, and cellular senescence as the most notable results. Acquired knowledge on the as such identified initial, osteoarthritis-related, detrimental responses of chondrocytes may eventually contribute to the development of effective disease-modifying osteoarthritis treatments.

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