A systems biology approach to synovial joint lubrication in health, injury, and disease

Wiley Interdiscip Rev Syst Biol Med. Jan-Feb 2012;4(1):15-37. doi: 10.1002/wsbm.157. Epub 2011 Aug 8.


The synovial joint contains synovial fluid (SF) within a cavity bounded by articular cartilage and synovium. SF is a viscous fluid that has lubrication, metabolic, and regulatory functions within synovial joints. SF contains lubricant molecules, including proteoglycan-4 and hyaluronan. SF is an ultrafiltrate of plasma with secreted contributions from cell populations lining and within the synovial joint space, including chondrocytes and synoviocytes. Maintenance of normal SF lubricant composition and function are important for joint homeostasis. In osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and joint injury, changes in lubricant composition and function accompany alterations in the cytokine and growth factor environment and increased fluid and molecular transport through joint tissues. Thus, understanding the synovial joint lubrication system requires a multifaceted study of the various parts of the synovial joint and their interactions. Systems biology approaches at multiple scales are being used to describe the molecular, cellular, and tissue components and their interactions that comprise the functioning synovial joint. Analyses of the transcriptome and proteome of SF, cartilage, and synovium suggest that particular molecules and pathways play important roles in joint homeostasis and disease. Such information may be integrated with physicochemical tissue descriptions to construct integrative models of the synovial joint that ultimately may explain maintenance of health, recovery from injury, or development and progression of arthritis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthritis / physiopathology*
  • Biological Transport / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Joints / injuries
  • Joints / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Models, Biological
  • Peptide Hydrolases / analysis
  • Proteomics
  • Rats
  • Synovial Fluid / chemistry
  • Synovial Fluid / metabolism
  • Synovial Fluid / physiology*
  • Systems Biology / methods*


  • Peptide Hydrolases