Objective: There is a great need for identification of biomarkers that could improve the prediction of early osteoarthritis (OA). We undertook this study to determine whether circulating levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFalpha), and C-reactive protein (CRP) can serve as useful markers of radiographic knee OA (RKOA) in a normal human population.
Methods: RKOA data were obtained from the cohort of the Chingford Study, a prospective population-based study of healthy, middle-aged British women. The RKOA-affected status of the subjects was assessed using the Kellgren/Lawrence (K/L) grade as determined on radiographs obtained at baseline (n = 908) and at 10 years and 15 years thereafter. Serum levels of CRP, IL-6, and TNFalpha were assayed at 5, 8, and 15 years, using high-sensitivity commercial assays. A K/L grade of >or=2 in either knee was used as the outcome measure. Statistical analyses included analysis of variance for repeated measurements and logistic regression models, together with longitudinal modeling of dichotomous responses.
Results: During 15 years of followup, the prevalence of RKOA (K/L grade >or=2) increased from 14.7% to 48.7% (P < 0.00001 versus baseline). The body mass index (BMI) and circulating levels of CRP and IL-6 were consistently and significantly higher in subjects diagnosed as having RKOA. When multiple logistic regression was applied to the data, the variables of older age (P = 3.93 x 10(-5)), higher BMI at baseline (P = 0.0003), and increased levels of IL-6 at year 5 (P = 0.0129) were determined to be independent predictors of the appearance of RKOA at year 10. The results were fully confirmed using longitudinal modeling of repeated measurements of the data obtained at 3 visits. The odds ratio for RKOA in subjects whose IL-6 levels were in the fourth quartile of increasing levels (versus the first quartile) was 2.74 (95% confidence interval 1.94-3.87).
Conclusion: This followup study showed that individuals were more likely to be diagnosed as having RKOA if they had a higher BMI and increased circulating levels of IL-6. These results should stimulate more work on IL-6 as a potential therapeutic target.