The efficacy of mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) therapies is increasingly attributed to paracrine secretion, particularly exosomes. In this study, we investigated the role of MSC exosomes in the regulation of inflammatory response, nociceptive behaviour, and condylar cartilage and subchondral bone healing in an immunocompetent rat model of temporomandibular joint osteoarthritis (TMJ-OA). We observed that exosome-mediated repair of osteoarthritic TMJs was characterized by early suppression of pain and degeneration with reduced inflammation, followed by sustained proliferation and gradual improvements in matrix expression and subchondral bone architecture, leading to overall joint restoration and regeneration. Using chondrocyte cultures, we could attribute some of the cellular activities during exosome-mediated joint repair to adenosine activation of AKT, ERK and AMPK signalling. Specifically, MSC exosomes enhanced s-GAG synthesis impeded by IL-1β, and suppressed IL-1β-induced nitric oxide and MMP13 production. These effects were partially abrogated by inhibitors of adenosine receptor activation, AKT, ERK and AMPK phosphorylation. Together, our observations suggest that MSC exosomes promote TMJ repair and regeneration in OA through a well-orchestrated mechanism of action that involved multiple cellular processes to restore the matrix and overall joint homeostasis. This study demonstrates the translational potential of a cell-free ready-to-use exosome-based therapeutic for treating TMJ pain and degeneration.
Keywords: Cartilage; Exosomes; Mesenchymal stem cells; Osteoarthritis; Regeneration; Temporomandibular joint.
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