Introduction: Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is unique in its pathology where inflammation commences at the entheses before progressing to an osteoproliferative phenotype generating excessive bone formation that can result in joint fusion. The underlying mechanisms of this progression are poorly understood. Recent work has suggested that changes in Wnt signalling, a key bone regulatory pathway, may contribute to joint ankylosis in AS. Using the proteoglycan-induced spondylitis (PGISp) mouse model which displays spondylitis and eventual joint fusion following an initial inflammatory stimulus, we have characterised the structural and molecular changes that underlie disease progression.
Methods: PGISp mice were characterised 12 weeks after initiation of inflammation using histology, immunohistochemistry (IHC) and expression profiling.
Results: Inflammation initiated at the periphery of the intervertebral discs progressing to disc destruction followed by massively excessive cartilage and bone matrix formation, as demonstrated by toluidine blue staining and IHC for collagen type I and osteocalcin, leading to syndesmophyte formation. Expression levels of DKK1 and SOST, Wnt signalling inhibitors highly expressed in joints, were reduced by 49% and 63% respectively in the spine PGISp compared with control mice (P < 0.05) with SOST inhibition confirmed by IHC. Microarray profiling showed genes involved in inflammation and immune-regulation were altered. Further, a number of genes specifically involved in bone regulation including other members of the Wnt pathway were also dysregulated.
Conclusions: This study implicates the Wnt pathway as a likely mediator of the mechanism by which inflammation induces bony ankylosis in spondyloarthritis, raising the potential that therapies targeting this pathway may be effective in preventing this process.