Purpose of review: Much has been documented in recent years on the possible involvement of angiogenesis in osteoarthritis. An understanding of the various regulatory mechanisms controlling blood vessel growth in the joint should lead to novel therapeutics, which selectively inhibit undesirable angiogenesis. Here, we summarize recent findings on the roles of angiogenesis in osteoarthritis and place this evidence in the context of previous literature in order to help explain pain and disease progression.
Recent findings: Inflammation and angiogenesis are closely associated in osteoarthritis, modulating functions of chondrocytes, contributing towards abnormal tissue growth and perfusion, ossification and endochondral bone development, leading to radiographic changes observed in the joint. Innervation accompanies vascularization and inflammation, hypoxia and mechanical overload are all thought to contribute in sensitizing these new nerves leading to increased pain. Articular cartilage provides a unique environment in which blood vessel growth is regulated by endogenous angiogenesis inhibitors and matrix constituents, as well as by growth factors produced by chondrocytes, subchondral bone and synovium. MRI and ultrasound enable the in-vivo visualization of abnormal vascularity in synovium and subchondral bone that have not been apparent with conventional radiography. As a result of these new findings, the widely accepted notion that osteoarthritis is primarily a disease of the cartilage is being challenged.
Summary: Molecular mechanisms and consequences of angiogenesis in osteoarthritis are slowly being elucidated. Studies, both in humans and animal models, support the notion that inhibiting angiogenesis will provide effective therapeutic strategies for treating osteoarthritis. Better techniques that can more precisely visualize the vascular changes of the whole joint can further enhance our understanding of osteoarthritis, and can provide proof of concept and early evidence of efficacy in trials of novel therapeutic interventions.