Objective: Arthritis is one of the hallmarks of late-stage Lyme disease. Previous studies have shown that infection with Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative agent of Lyme disease, results in degradation of proteoglycans and collagen in cartilage. B burgdorferi do not appear to produce any exported proteases capable of digesting proteoglycans and collagen, but instead, induce and activate host proteases, such as matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), which results in cartilage degradation. The role of aggrecanases in Lyme arthritis has not yet been determined. We therefore sought to delineate the contribution of aggrecanases to joint destruction in Lyme arthritis.
Methods: We examined the expression patterns of aggrecanases 1 and 2 (ADAMTS 4 and 5, respectively) in B burgdorferi-infected primary human chondrocyte cell cultures, in synovial fluid samples from patients with active Lyme arthritis, and in the joints of mice by real-time quantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction and immunoblotting techniques. Bovine cartilage explants were used to determine the role of aggrecanases in B burgdorferi-induced cartilage degradation.
Results: ADAMTS-4, but not ADAMTS-5, was induced in human chondrocytes infected with B burgdorferi. The active forms of ADAMTS-4 were increased in synovial fluid samples from patients with active Lyme arthritis and were elevated in the joints of mice infected with B burgdorferi. Using cartilage explant models of Lyme arthritis, it appeared that the cleavage of aggrecan was predominantly mediated by "aggrecanases" rather than MMPs.
Conclusion: The induction of ADAMTS-4 by B burgdorferi results in the cleavage of aggrecan, which may be an important first step that leads to permanent degradation of cartilage.