Comparison of the major cell populations among osteoarthritis, Kashin-Beck disease and healthy chondrocytes by single-cell RNA-seq analysis

Cell Death Dis. 2021 May 27;12(6):551. doi: 10.1038/s41419-021-03832-3.


Chondrocytes are the key target cells of the cartilage degeneration that occurs in Kashin-Beck disease (KBD) and osteoarthritis (OA). However, the heterogeneity of articular cartilage cell types present in KBD and OA patients and healthy controls is still unknown, which has prevented the study of the pathophysiology of the mechanisms underlying the roles of different populations of chondrocytes in the processes leading to KBD and OA. Here, we aimed to identify the transcriptional programmes and all major cell populations in patients with KBD, patients with OA and healthy controls to identify the markers that discriminate among chondrocytes in these three groups. Single-cell RNA sequencing was performed to identify chondrocyte populations and their gene signatures in KBD, OA and healthy cells to investigate their differences as related to the pathogenetic mechanisms of these two osteochondral diseases. We performed immunohistochemistry and quantitative reverse-transcription PCR (qRT-PCR) assays to validate the markers for chondrocyte population. Ten clusters were labelled by cell type according to the expression of previously described markers, and one novel population was identified according to the expression of a new set of markers. The homeostatic and mitochondrial chondrocyte populations, which were identified by the expression of the unknown markers MT1X and MT2A and MT-ND1 and MT-ATP6, were markedly expanded in KBD. The regulatory chondrocyte population, identified by the expression of CHI3L1, was markedly expanded in OA. Our study allows us to better understand the heterogeneity of chondrocytes in KBD and OA and provides new evidence of differences in the pathogenetic mechanisms between these two diseases.