An osteoarthritis subtype characterized by synovial lipid metabolism disorder and fibroblast-like synoviocyte dysfunction

J Orthop Translat. 2022 Mar 12;33:142-152. doi: 10.1016/ eCollection 2022 Mar.


Background: The heterogeneity of osteoarthritis (OA) significantly limits the effectiveness of pharmacological treatments in an unselected patient population. In this context, the identification of OA subtypes is meaningful for the development of therapies that target specific types of OA pathogenesis.

Methods: Expression array profiles of 70 OA and 36 control synovial samples were extracted from the GEO database. Unsupervised consensus clustering was performed based on the most variable genes to identify OA subclusters. Next, Joint samples from OA patients were obtained. We divided the OA patient into two subpopulations according to synovial ADCY7 levels. Synovium and cartilage samples from different OA subpopulations were evaluated. In addition, we established a high-fat diet (HFD)-induced rat OA model. We evaluated OA progression, lipid metabolism, synovitis and fibroblast-like synoviocytes (FLS) function in this HFD-induced OA model.

Results: 70 OA patients were categorized into three distinct subclusters. We noted that one subcluster was characterized by synovial lipid metabolism disorder GO terms. We further identified the most noticeable KEGG pathway "Regulation of lipolysis in adipocytes" in this subcluster as well as the most significantly differentially expressed gene, ADCY7. We found that the ADCY7 high expressing group (32.6%) exhibited features of synovial inflammatory lipolysis epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) tendency, as well as faster join space narrowing. The HFD induced OA-like degeneration in rat joints. We observed similar synovial inflammatory lipolysis and EMT in FLS, characterized by higher proliferative and invasive activity and elevated proinflammatory and procatabolic properties. ADCY7 was highly expressed in the synovium of the HFD-OA model rats and the inhibition of ADCY7 effectively attenuated these HFD-induced degenerative changes as well as synovial inflammatory lipolysis and FLS dysfunction. In HFD-FLSs, ADCY7 promoted the phosphorylation of PKA as well as its downstream lipid droplet-associated protein PLIN1 and hormone-sensitive lipase (HSL). The inhibition of PKA largely alleviated ADCY7-mediated HFD-FLS dysfunction.

Conclusions: We described a synovial EMT and lipid metabolism disorder in the pathogenesis of OA. This novel mechanism may represent a currently undefined OA subtype. ADCY7 is a potential molecular marker of this pathomechanism.

The translational potential of this article: Utilizing synovial samples from OA patients, we identified a subpopulation with high ADCY7 expression. This may represent a currently undefined OA subtype and explain the clinical phenomenon of more severe synovial inflammation in obese OA patients. In addition, we established an HFD-induced OA rat model and found an upregulation of ADCY7 in the synovium. We confirmed that the inhibition of ADCY7 could effectively attenuate HFD-induced degenerative changes as well as the inflammatory lipolysis and FLS dysfunction observed in the rat model. This suggests that ADCY7 and its downstream pathways are potential pharmacological targets for treating this lipid-metabolism-disorder-related OA mechanism.

Keywords: Adenylyl cyclase 7; Disease type; Epithelial-mesenchymal transition; Fibroblast-like synoviocytes; Osteoarthritis.