Introduction: The mechanism by which intra-articular injection of hyaluronan (HA) ameliorates joint pathology is unknown. Animal studies have shown that HA can reduce synovial activation, periarticular fibrosis and cartilage erosion; however, its specific effects on the different cell types involved remain unclear. We have used the TTR (TGFbeta1 injection and Treadmill Running) model of murine osteoarthritis (OA), which exhibits many OA-like changes, including synovial activation, to examine in vivo tissue-specific effects of intra-articular HA.
Methods: The kinetics of clearance of fluorotagged HA from joints was examined with whole-body imaging. Naïve and treated knee joints were examined macroscopically for cartilage erosion, meniscal damage and fibrosis. Quantitative histopathology was done with Safranin O for cartilage and with Hematoxylin & Eosin for synovium. Gene expression in joint tissues for Acan, Col1a1, Col2a1, Col3a1, Col5a1, Col10a1, Adamts5 and Mmp13 was done by quantitative PCR. The abundance and distribution of aggrecan, collagen types I, II, III, V and X, ADAMTS5 and MMP13 were examined by immunohistochemistry.
Results: Injected HA showed a half-life of less than 2 h in the murine knee joint. At the tissue level, HA protected against neovascularization and fibrosis of the meniscus/synovium and maintained articular cartilage integrity in wild-type but not in Cd44 knockout mice. HA injection enhanced the expression of chondrogenic genes and proteins and blocked that of fibrogenic/degradative genes and proteins in cartilage/subchondral bone, whereas it blocked activation of both groups in meniscus/synovium. In all locations it reduced the expression/protein for Mmp13 and blocked Adamts5 expression but not its protein abundance in the synovial lining.
Conclusions: The injection of HA, 24 h after TGFbeta1 injection, inhibited the cascade of OA-like joint changes seen after treadmill use in the TTR model of OA. In terms of mechanism, tissue protection by HA injection was abrogated by Cd44 ablation, suggesting that interaction of the injected HA with CD44 is central to its protective effects on joint tissue remodeling and degeneration in OA progression.