Autophagy modulates osteoarthritis-related gene expression in human chondrocytes

Arthritis Rheum. 2012 Jun;64(6):1920-8. doi: 10.1002/art.34323. Epub 2011 Dec 6.


Objective: Autophagy, an evolutionarily conserved process for the bulk degradation of cytoplasmic components, serves as a cell survival mechanism. The purpose of this study was to elucidate the role of autophagy in human chondrocytes and pathophysiology of osteoarthritis (OA).

Methods: Autophagy in articular cartilage and primary chondrocytes was assessed using antibodies for the autophagy markers light chain 3 and beclin 1. The states of autophagy under catabolic and nutritional stresses were examined. We also examined the effects of inhibition or induction of autophagy under stimulation with interleukin-1β. Autophagy was inhibited by small interfering RNA targeting ATG5, and autophagy was induced by rapamycin. The effects of inhibition or induction of autophagy were examined by real-time polymerase chain reaction for aggrecan, COL2A1, MMP13, and ADAMTS5 messenger RNA. To further examine the mechanism of autophagy regulation in OA human chondrocytes, we investigated whether autophagy modulates apoptosis and reactive oxygen species (ROS).

Results: Autophagy was increased in OA chondrocytes and cartilage. Catabolic and nutritional stresses increased autophagy. In addition, the inhibition of autophagy caused OA-like gene expression changes, while the induction of autophagy prevented them. Furthermore, the inhibition of autophagy increased the amount of cleaved poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase and cleaved caspase 9, while the induction of autophagy inhibited these increases. ROS activity was also decreased by induction of autophagy.

Conclusion: These observations suggested that increased autophagy is an adaptive response to protect cells from stresses, and that autophagy regulates OA-like gene expression changes through the modulation of apoptosis and ROS. Further studies about autophagy in chondrocytes will provide novel insights into the pathophysiology of OA.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins / genetics
  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins / metabolism
  • Autophagy / physiology*
  • Beclin-1
  • Cartilage, Articular / drug effects
  • Cartilage, Articular / metabolism*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chondrocytes / drug effects
  • Chondrocytes / metabolism*
  • Chondrocytes / pathology
  • Female
  • Gene Expression / drug effects
  • Gene Expression / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins / genetics
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins / metabolism
  • Osteoarthritis, Knee / genetics
  • Osteoarthritis, Knee / metabolism*
  • RNA, Small Interfering / genetics
  • RNA, Small Interfering / metabolism
  • Sirolimus / pharmacology


  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins
  • BECN1 protein, human
  • Beclin-1
  • MAP1LC3A protein, human
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • Sirolimus