Running decreases knee intra-articular cytokine and cartilage oligomeric matrix concentrations: a pilot study

Eur J Appl Physiol. 2016 Dec;116(11-12):2305-2314. doi: 10.1007/s00421-016-3474-z. Epub 2016 Oct 3.


Introduction: Regular exercise protects against degenerative joint disorders, yet the mechanisms that underlie these benefits are poorly understood. Chronic, low-grade inflammation is widely implicated in the onset and progression of degenerative joint disease.

Purpose: To examine the effect of running on knee intra-articular and circulating markers of inflammation and cartilage turnover in healthy men and women.

Methods: Six recreational runners completed a running (30 min) and control (unloaded for 30 min) session in a counterbalanced order. Synovial fluid (SF) and serum samples were taken before and after each session. Cytokine concentration was measured in SF and serum using a multiplexed cytokine magnetic bead array. Ground reaction forces were measured during the run.

Results: There were no changes in serum or SF cytokine concentration in the control condition. The cytokine GM-CSF decreased from 10.7 ± 9.8 to 6.2 ± 5.9 pg/ml pre- to post-run (p = 0.03). IL-15 showed a trend for decreasing concentration pre- (6.7 ± 7.5 pg/ml) to post-run (4.3 ± 2.7 pg/ml) (p = 0.06). Changes in IL-15 concentration negatively correlated with the mean number of foot strikes during the run (r 2 = 0.67; p = 0.047). The control condition induced a decrease in serum COMP and an increase in SF COMP, while conversely the run induced an increase in serum COMP and a decrease in SF COMP. Changes in serum and SF COMP pre- to post-intervention were inversely correlated (r 2 = 0.47; p = 0.01).

Conclusions: Running appears to decrease knee intra-articular pro-inflammatory cytokine concentration and facilitates the movement of COMP from the joint space to the serum.

Keywords: Biomarker; COMP; Exercise; GM-CSF; Ground reaction force; IL-15; IL-6; Inflammation; Knee joint; Osteoarthritis; Synovial fluid.

MeSH terms

  • Cartilage Oligomeric Matrix Protein / blood
  • Cartilage Oligomeric Matrix Protein / metabolism*
  • Cartilage, Articular / physiology*
  • Cytokines / blood
  • Cytokines / metabolism*
  • Down-Regulation / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inflammation Mediators / blood
  • Inflammation Mediators / metabolism*
  • Knee Joint / physiology*
  • Male
  • Pilot Projects
  • Running / physiology*
  • Synovial Fluid / metabolism
  • Young Adult


  • COMP protein, human
  • Cartilage Oligomeric Matrix Protein
  • Cytokines
  • Inflammation Mediators