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Histol Histopathol. 2002 Oct;17(4):1239-67.

Glucose transport and metabolism in chondrocytes: a key to understanding chondrogenesis, skeletal development and cartilage degradation in osteoarthritis.

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  • 1Connective Tissue Research Group, Musculoskeletal Physiology Laboratory, Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, United Kingdom.


Despite the recognition that degenerative cartilage disorders like osteoarthritis (OA) and osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) may have nutritional abnormalities at the root of their pathogenesis, balanced dietary supplementation programs have played a secondary role in their management. This review emphasizes the importance and role of nutritional factors such as glucose and glucose-derived sugars (i.e. glucosamine sulfate and vitamin C) in the development, maintenance, repair, and remodeling of cartilage. Chondrocytes, the cells of cartilage, consume glucose as a primary substrate for ATP production in glycolysis and utilize glucosamine sulfate and other sulfated sugars as structural components for extracellular matrix synthesis and are dependent on hexose uptake and delivery to metabolic and biosynthetic pools. Data from several laboratories suggests that chondrocytes express multiple isoforms of the GLUT/SLC2A family of glucose/polyol transporters. These facilitative glucose transporter proteins are expressed in a tissue and cell-specific manner, exhibit distinct kinetic properties, and are developmentally regulated. They may also be regulated by endocrine factors like insulin and insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) and cytokines such as interleukin 1 beta (IL-1 beta) and tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha). Recent studies suggest that degeneration of cartilage may be triggered by metabolic disorders of glucose balance and that OA occurs coincident with metabolic disease, endocrine dysfunction and diabetes mellitus. Based on these metabolic, endocrine and developmental considerations we present a novel hypothesis regarding the role of glucose transport and metabolism in cartilage physiology and pathophysiology and speculate that supplementation with sugar-derived vitamins and nutraceuticals may benefit patients with degenerative joint disorders.

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