Background: We investigated the anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effect of simvastatin on articular cartilage via the inhibition of matrix metalloproteinase-3 (MMP-3), a matrix-degrading enzyme, in a mechanically induced experimental osteoarthritis (OA) animal model.
Materials and methods: Twenty-seven albino Wistar rats were divided in three groups of equal number. Unphysiologic loading of articular cartilage was simulated by transecting anterior cruciate ligaments of the right knees of 18 rats consisting of groups 1 and 2. Nine animals in group 2 received orally administered simvastatin 20 mg/kg per day by gavage for 8 weeks. Animals in group 3 were sham operated. All animals were sacrificed at postoperative 8 weeks. Effects of simvastatin on disease progression was evaluated by documenting OA changes in cartilage specimens using Osteoarthritis Research Society International (OARSI) OA cartilage histopathology assessment system scores combined with the percentage of MMP-3 expression in chondrocytes.
Results: Simvastatin treatment significantly down-regulated the percentage of MMP-3 expression in chondrocytes as assessed by immunohistochemistry methods. Suppression of this matrix-degrading enzyme by simvastatin also reduced OARSI scores, suggesting the potential for statins against OA progression.
Conclusions: Following knee trauma, OA initiates at the molecular level in a short period of time. Irreversible structural changes in cartilage that require demanding treatment strategies led us to focus on effective measures to prevent OA. Statins have immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory properties independent from their serum-cholesterol-lowering effects. One of these widely used drugs, simvastatin, showed beneficial effects on OA progression and extent by reducing cartilage degradation in our experimental setting. If these results are confirmed by human trials, simvastatin might be considered by orthopedic surgeons as a disease-modifying drug during the early inflammatory phase of posttraumatic OA.