Despite indirect evidence suggesting that low oxygen levels might occur in the rheumatoid arthritis (RA) synovium, direct proof of the presence of hypoxia in the arthritic synovium as well as the relevance of low oxygen levels for joint destruction is lacking. The aim of this study was to analyse the distribution of hypoxia in arthritic joints and to evaluate the molecular effects of the hypoxic environment on the phenotype of RA synovial fibroblasts (SF).
The hypoxia marker EF-5 was applied in mice with the collagen-induced arthritis (CIA). Expression profile analysis with hypoxic and normoxic SF was performed using subtractive hybridization and microarray. The expression of the inhibitor of differentiation-2 (Id-2), CD68 (macrophage marker) and prolyl hydroxylase (fibroblast marker) was evaluated by immunohistochemistry on synovial tissues from RA, osteoarthritis patients and CIA mice. To evaluate the function of Id-2 in SF, cells were transfected with the pcDNA3.1 containing cDNA for Id-2 or Id-2-specific siRNA or mock controls. The expression of Id-2 and genes regulated by Id-2 in transfected SF was evaluated by SYBR Green real-time PCR and western blot. SF stably transfected with Id-2 were cocultured with bone marrow cells in a transwell system. The expression of the receptor activator of NF-κB ligand (RANKL) and osteoprotegerin were measured by real-time PCR. The development of osteoclasts was evaluated by visualization of the activity of tartrate-resistant acid phosphatase.
Using the hypoxia marker EF-5 we found that in mice with CIA, synovial cells invading bone and cartilage are exposed to reduced oxygen levels. Expression profile studies identified Id-2 as being upregulated under low oxygen conditions. In addition, IL-1beta stimulation increased the expression of Id-2 in these cells. Histological studies of RA synovium and CIA synovium showed strong expression of Id-2 in SF at sites of synovial invasion into bone. Overproduction of Id-2 in SF by stable transfection triggered the expression of several genes promoting osteoclastogenesis, including BMP-2, PTHrP, Wnt5a and vascular endothelial growth factor. Conversely, the suppression of endogenous Id-2 led to the downregulation of the expression of these molecules. Consistent with these findings coculture of Id-2 transfected SF with bone marrow cells increased the expression of the osteoclast differentiation factor RANKL, and decreased the expression of the osteoclast inhibitory factor osteoprotegerin in bone marrow stromal cells, which was followed by an increase in the number of osteoclasts.
Taken together, our data provide evidence that hypoxia is present at sites of synovial invasion in RA and that Id-2 induced by hypoxia contributes at these sites to joint destruction by promoting SF-dependent osteoclastogenesis.