Osteoarthritis affects more than eight million people in the UK. It is the most common form of joint disease, causing debilitating pain, stiffness and mobility problems.
A joint is the point at which two bones meet. The ends of your bones are coated with articular cartilage, which is a layer of slippery tissue that acts to reduce friction and as a shock absorber, spreading the load more evenly across the joint.
With osteoarthritis the cartilage covering the end of the bones roughens and becomes thin so that eventually your bones rub together and can even start to wear away themselves.
The bone near the joint also thickens and grows outwards, forming bony spurs which can change the shape of your joint and force the bones out of their normal position. The synovium (the inner layer of the joint) may thicken and produce extra fluid causing your joint to swell. The ligaments may thicken and contract, restricting natural movement.
The role of FoxO proteins
Researchers in San Diego California believe they may have found a new strategy for treating osteoarthritis and even preventing it from developing. They have discovered that proteins called FoxO are important for joint health. By boosting levels of this protein, it may be possible to halt the development of osteoarthritis and even prevent the disease from developing.
The research was carried out at Department of Molecular Medicine at The Scripps Research Institute and published in the journal Science Translational Medicine. It found that mice that were lacking FoxO proteins in their joint cartilage suffered from joint degeneration at a significantly younger age than a control group of mice.
The FoxO deficient mice also showed greater susceptibility to cartilage damage during a treadmill test and were found to have abnormalities in a process call autophagy which is how cells get rid of unwanted or damaged components.
Their cells were also less able to protect themselves against damage caused by free radicals and they produced less lubricin which helps to protect joint cartilage against damage.
Scientists concluded that the absence of FoxO proteins in joint cartilage leads to an increase in inflammation and a decrease in the cell’s ability to repair any damage. By boosting FoxO, they found they were able to restore normal function in the cells and restore the production of lubricin.
This exciting discovery paves the way for a possible cure for osteoarthritis. The scientist who led the study, Dr Martin Lotz said:
“Drugs that boost the expression and activity of FoxO could be a strategy for preventing and treating osteoarthritis.”
Scientists are continuing to experiment with creating molecules that can increase FoxO levels and assessing their effect on the disease.st
A cure for osteoarthritis could still be a little way off but this research is one step towards a future where millions of people could be freed from the pain and stiffness of this debilitating joint condition.