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Open Access Research article

Effects of Wnt3A and mechanical load on cartilage chondrocyte homeostasis

Rhian S Thomas12, Alan R Clarke2, Victor C Duance23* and Emma J Blain23

Author Affiliations

1 Welsh School of Pharmacy, Redwood Building, Cardiff University, King Edward VII Avenue, Cardiff, CF10 3NB, UK

2 Arthritis Research UK Biomechanics and Bioengineering Centre, School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Museum Avenue, Cardiff, CF10 3AX, UK

3 Division of Pathophysiology and Repair, School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Museum Avenue, Cardiff, CF10 3AX, UK

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2011, 13:R203  doi:10.1186/ar3536

Published: 9 December 2011

Abstract

Introduction

Articular cartilage functions in withstanding mechanical loads and provides a lubricating surface for frictionless movement of joints. Osteoarthritis, characterised by cartilage degeneration, develops due to the progressive erosion of structural integrity and eventual loss of functional performance. Osteoarthritis is a multi-factorial disorder; two important risk factors are abnormal mechanical load and genetic predisposition. A single nucleotide polymorphism analysis demonstrated an association of hip osteoarthritis with an Arg324Gly substitution mutation in FrzB, a Wnt antagonist. The purpose of this study was two-fold: to assess whether mechanical stimulation modulates β-catenin signalling and catabolic gene expression in articular chondrocytes, and further to investigate whether there is an interplay of mechanical load and Wnt signalling in mediating a catabolic response.

Methods

Chondrocytes were pre-stimulated with recombinant Wnt3A for 24 hours prior to the application of tensile strain (7.5%, 1 Hz) for 30 minutes. Activation of Wnt signalling, via β-catenin nuclear translocation and downstream effects including the transcriptional activation of c-jun, c-fos and Lef1, markers of chondrocyte phenotype (type II collagen (col2a1), aggrecan (acan), SOX9) and catabolic genes (MMP3, MMP13, ADAMTS-4, ADAMTS-5) were assessed.

Results

Physiological tensile strain induced col2a1, acan and SOX9 transcription. Load-induced acan and SOX9 expression were repressed in the presence of Wnt3A. Load induced partial β-catenin nuclear translocation; there was an additive effect of load and Wnt3A on β-catenin distribution, with both extensive localisation in the nucleus and cytoplasm. Immediate early response (c-jun) and catabolic genes (MMP3, ADAMTS-4) were up-regulated in Wnt3A stimulated chondrocytes. With load and Wnt3A there was an additive up-regulation of c-fos, MMP3 and ADAMTS-4 transcription, whereas there was a synergistic interplay on c-jun, Lef1 and ADAMTS-5 transcription.

Conclusion

Our data suggest that load and Wnt, in combination, can repress transcription of chondrocyte matrix genes, whilst enhancing expression of catabolic mediators. Future studies will investigate the respective roles of abnormal loading and genetic predisposition in mediating cartilage degeneration.