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PLoS One. 2009;4(4):e5262. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0005262. Epub 2009 Apr 16.

Biomechanical thresholds regulate inflammation through the NF-kappaB pathway: experiments and modeling.

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  • 1Biomechanics and Tissue Engineering Laboratory, College of Dentistry, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, USA.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

During normal physical activities cartilage experiences dynamic compressive forces that are essential to maintain cartilage integrity. However, at non-physiologic levels these signals can induce inflammation and initiate cartilage destruction. Here, by examining the pro-inflammatory signaling networks, we developed a mathematical model to show the magnitude-dependent regulation of chondrocytic responses by compressive forces.

METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS:

Chondrocytic cells grown in 3-D scaffolds were subjected to various magnitudes of dynamic compressive strain (DCS), and the regulation of pro-inflammatory gene expression via activation of nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-kappaB) signaling cascade examined. Experimental evidences provide the existence of a threshold in the magnitude of DCS that regulates the mRNA expression of nitric oxide synthase (NOS2), an inducible pro-inflammatory enzyme. Interestingly, below this threshold, DCS inhibits the interleukin-1beta (IL-1beta)-induced pro-inflammatory gene expression, with the degree of suppression depending on the magnitude of DCS. This suppression of NOS2 by DCS correlates with the attenuation of the NF-kappaB signaling pathway as measured by IL-1beta-induced phosphorylation of the inhibitor of kappa B (IkappaB)-alpha, degradation of IkappaB-alpha and IkappaB-beta, and subsequent nuclear translocation of NF-kappaB p65. A mathematical model developed to understand the complex dynamics of the system predicts two thresholds in the magnitudes of DCS, one for the inhibition of IL-1beta-induced expression of NOS2 by DCS at low magnitudes, and second for the DCS-induced expression of NOS2 at higher magnitudes.

CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE:

Experimental and computational results indicate that biomechanical signals suppress and induce inflammation at critical thresholds through activation/suppression of the NF-kappaB signaling pathway. These thresholds arise due to the bistable behavior of the networks originating from the positive feedback loop between NF-kappaB and its target genes. These findings lay initial groundwork for the identification of the thresholds in physical activities that can differentiate its favorable actions from its unfavorable consequences on joints.

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