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Open Access Research article

Hypoxia promotes redifferentiation and suppresses markers of hypertrophy and degeneration in both healthy and osteoarthritic chondrocytes

Brandon D Markway, Holly Cho and Brian Johnstone*

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Department of Orthopaedics & Rehabilitation, Oregon Health & Science University, 3181 SW Sam Jackson Park Road, OP31, Portland, OR 97239 USA

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Citation and License

Arthritis Research & Therapy 2013, 15:R92  doi:10.1186/ar4272

Published: 21 August 2013

Abstract

Introduction

Hypoxia is considered to be a positive influence on the healthy chondrocyte phenotype and cartilage matrix formation. However, hypoxia-inducible factors (HIFs) have been implicated in the pathogenesis of osteoarthritis (OA). Thus, we assessed whether healthy and OA chondrocytes have distinct responses to oxygen, particularly with regard to hypertrophy and degradation during redifferentiation.

Methods

Monolayer-expanded healthy and OA chondrocytes were redifferentiated for 14 days in pellet cultures under standard (20% oxygen) or hypoxic (2% oxygen) conditions. Cartilage matrix gene expression, matrix quality and quantity, degradative enzyme expression and HIF expression were measured.

Results

In hypoxia, both healthy and OA chondrocytes had higher human collagen type II, α1 gene (COL2A1), and aggrecan (ACAN) expression and sulfated glycosaminoglycan (sGAG) accumulation, concomitant with lower human collagen type X, α1 gene (COL10A1), and human collagen type I, α1 gene (COL1A1), expression and collagen I extracellular accumulation. OA chondrocytes had significantly lower sGAGs/DNA than healthy chondrocytes, but only in high oxygen conditions. Hypoxia also caused significantly greater sGAG retention and hyaluronic acid synthase 2 (HAS2) expression by OA chondrocytes. Both healthy and OA chondrocytes had significantly lower expression of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) MMP1, MMP2, MMP3 and MMP13 in hypoxia and less active MMP2 enzyme, consistent with lower MMP14 expression. However, aggrecanase (ADAMTS4 and ADAMTS5) expression was significantly lowered by hypoxia only in healthy cells, and COL10A1 and MMP13 remained significantly higher in OA chondrocytes than in healthy chondrocytes in hypoxic conditions. HIF-1α and HIF-2α had similar expression profiles in healthy and OA cells, increasing to maximal levels early in hypoxia and decreasing over time.

Conclusions

Hypoxic culture of human chondrocytes has long been acknowledged to result in increased matrix accumulation, but still little is known of its effects on catabolism. We show herein that the increased expression of matrix proteins, combined with decreased expression of numerous degradative enzymes by hypoxia, minimizes but does not abolish differences between redifferentiated healthy and OA chondrocytes. Hypoxia-induced HIF expression is associated with hypertrophic marker and degradative enzyme downregulation and increased measures of redifferentiation in both healthy and OA chondrocytes. Therefore, though HIFs may be involved in the pathogenesis of OA, conditions that promote HIF expression in vitro promote matrix accumulation and decrease degradation and hypertrophy, even in cells from OA joints.