Advancements in understanding the disease could bring about a paradigm shift.
For a long time, osteoarthritis was believed to stem from wear and tear in our later years. However, recent research increasingly connects the breakdown of cartilage to inflammatory and metabolic activities within the joint. A breakthrough in understanding this condition has been made by a team of scientists spearheaded by MedUni Vienna. Their findings, offering a new perspective for diagnosis and treatment, were recently published in the journal Annals of Rheumatic Diseases.
The research was led by molecular geneticist Erwin Wagner from the Department of Laboratory Medicine and the Department of Dermatology at MedUni Vienna. Collaborating with peers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, they concentrated on a protein known as c-Fos. This protein has long been under the scientific lens for its association with bone and cartilage disorders.
As the current research also showed, cartilage samples from humans and mice with osteoarthritis (OA) have elevated levels of c-Fos. The protein is secreted by cartilage cells in response to OA signals and plays a role in protecting cartilage.
As part of their study, the research team has now discovered that c-Fos levels are linked to the severity of the course of OA. For example, analyses of animal models revealed that the absence of the protein in cartilage caused severe forms of joint disease.
Subsequently, the scientists deciphered the mechanism in the metabolism of cartilage cells that controls the production and accumulation of c-Fos. “Our findings are an important step towards the development of targeted therapies in the form of drugs based on the newly discovered control mechanism of c-Fos expression in cartilage cells,” says study leader Erwin Wagner, highlighting the high relevance of the research work.
More than 500 million people are affected worldwide
osteoarthritis is the most common degenerative joint disease that can occur in various joints. According to estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO), the knees are affected in more than 300 million people worldwide, and the hips in around 240 million. Due to increasing risk factors such as obesity or aging of the population, the prevalence is expected to continue to rise.
The disease is associated with great pain, massively impairs the quality of life of those affected, and can also lead to disability due to the loss of joint function. Currently, therapeutic measures are mainly aimed at relieving pain, preserving joint function and mobility as much as possible, and reducing inflammation. The new insights now gained into the development and progression of OA could bring about a paradigm shift in the therapy of chronic joint disease and should be confirmed by further research.
Reference: “Metabolic rewiring controlled by c-Fos governs cartilage integrity in osteoarthritis” by Kazuhiko Matsuoka, Latifa Bakiri, Martin Bilban, Stefan Toegel, Arvand Haschemi, Hao Yuan, Maria Kasper, Reinhard Windhager and Erwin F Wagner, 11 August 2023, Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.
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