The epigenetic effect of glucosamine and a nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-kB) inhibitor on primary human chondrocytes--implications for osteoarthritis

Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2011 Feb 18;405(3):362-7. doi: 10.1016/j.bbrc.2011.01.007. Epub 2011 Jan 8.


Objective: Idiopathic osteoarthritis is the most common form of osteoarthritis (OA) world-wide and remains the leading cause of disability and the associated socio-economic burden in an increasing aging population. Traditionally, OA has been viewed as a degenerative joint disease characterized by progressive destruction of the articular cartilage and changes in the subchondral bone culminating in joint failure. However, the etiology of OA is multifactorial involving genetic, mechanical and environmental factors. Treatment modalities include analgesia, joint injection with steroids or hyaluronic acid, oral supplements including glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, as well as physiotherapy. Thus, there is significant interest in the discovery of disease modifying agents. One such agent, glucosamine (GlcN) is commonly prescribed even though the therapeutic efficacy and mechanism of action remain controversial. Inflammatory cytokines, including IL-1β, and proteinases such as MMP-13 have been implicated in the pathogenesis and progression of OA together with an associated CpG demethylation in their promoters. We have investigated the potential of GlcN to modulate NF-kB activity and cytokine-induced abnormal gene expression in articular chondrocytes and, critically, whether this is associated with an epigenetic process.

Method: Human chondrocytes were isolated from the articular cartilage of femoral heads, obtained with ethical permission, following fractured neck of femur surgery. Chondrocytes were cultured for 5 weeks in six separate groups; (i) control culture, (ii) cultured with a mixture of 2.5 ng/ml IL-1β and 2.5 ng/ml oncostatin M (OSM), (iii) cultured with 2mM N-acetyl GlcN (Sigma-Aldrich), (iv) cultured with a mixture of 2.5 ng/ml IL-1β, 2.5 ng/ml OSM and 2mM GlcN, (v) cultured with 1.0 μM BAY 11-7082 (BAY; NF-kB inhibitor: Calbiochem, Darmstadt, Germany) and, (vi) cultured with a mixture of 2.5 ng/ml IL-1β, 2.5 ng/ml OSM and 1.0 μM BAY. The levels of IL1B and MMP13 mRNA were examined using qRT-PCR. The percentage DNA methylation in the CpG sites of the IL1β and MMP13 proximal promoter were quantified by pyrosequencing.

Result: IL1β expression was enhanced over 580-fold in articular chondrocytes treated with IL-1β and OSM. GlcN dramatically ameliorated the cytokine-induced expression by 4-fold. BAY alone increased IL1β expression by 3-fold. In the presence of BAY, IL-1β induced IL1B mRNA levels were decreased by 6-fold. The observed average percentage methylation of the -256 CpG site in the IL1β promoter was 65% in control cultures and decreased to 36% in the presence of IL-1β/OSM. GlcN and BAY alone had a negligible effect on the methylation status of the IL1B promoter. The cytokine-induced loss of methylation status in the IL1B promoter was ameliorated by both GlcN and BAY to 44% and 53%, respectively. IL-1β/OSM treatment increased MMP13 mRNA levels independently of either GlcN or BAY and no change in the methylation status of the MMP13 promoter was observed.

Conclusion: We demonstrate for the first time that GlcN and BAY can prevent cytokine-induced demethylation of a specific CpG site in the IL1β promoter and this was associated with decreased expression of IL1β. These studies provide a potential mechanism of action for OA disease modifying agents via NF-kB and, critically, demonstrate the need for further studies to elucidate the role that NF-kB may play in DNA demethylation in human chondrocytes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chondrocytes / drug effects*
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferase 1
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases / biosynthesis
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases / genetics
  • DNA Methylation / drug effects
  • Down-Regulation
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / drug effects*
  • Glucosamine / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-1beta / genetics
  • Interleukin-1beta / metabolism
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 13 / genetics
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 13 / metabolism
  • NF-kappa B / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Nitriles / pharmacology*
  • Osteoarthritis / genetics
  • Osteoarthritis / metabolism*
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic / drug effects
  • Sulfones / pharmacology*


  • 3-(4-methylphenylsulfonyl)-2-propenenitrile
  • Interleukin-1beta
  • NF-kappa B
  • Nitriles
  • Sulfones
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferase 1
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 13
  • Glucosamine