Metformin attenuates osteoarthritis by targeting chondrocytes, synovial macrophages and adipocytes

Rheumatology (Oxford). 2022 Aug 19;keac467. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/keac467. Online ahead of print.


Objective: To investigate the therapeutic effect and mechanism of metformin on knee osteoarthritis (OA) in normal diet (ND) mice or high-fat diet (HFD)-induced obese mice.

Methods: Destabilization of the medial meniscus surgery was performed in ND mice or HFD mice, and metformin was administrated in drinking water or not. The changes of OA joint structure, infiltration and polarization of synovial macrophages and circulating and local levels of leptin and adiponectin were evaluated. In vitro, the effects of metformin on chondrocytes and macrophages, and of conditioned mediums derived from mouse abdominal fat on murine chondrogenic cell line ATDC5 and murine macrophage cell line RAW264.7, were detected.

Results: Metformin showed protective effects on OA, characterized by reductions on OARSI score (2.00, 95% CI [1.15-2.86] for ND mice and 3.17, 95% CI [2.37-3.96] for HFD mice) and synovitis score (1.17, 95% CI [0.27-2.06] for ND mice and 2.50, 95% CI [1.49-3.51] for HFD mice) after 10 weeks of treatment, and the effects were more significant in HFD mice than in ND mice. Mechanistically, in addition to decreasing apoptosis and matrix-degrading enzymes expression in chondrocytes as well as infiltration and pro-inflammatory differentiation of synovial macrophages, metformin reduced leptin secretion by adipose tissue in HFD mice.

Conclusions: Metformin protects against knee OA which could be through reducing apoptosis and catabolism of chondrocytes, and suppressing infiltration and pro-inflammatory polarization of synovial macrophages. For obese mice, metformin has a greater protective effect in knee OA additionally through reducing leptin secretion from adipose tissue.

Keywords: Leptin; Macrophages; Metformin; Obesity; Osteoarthritis.