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BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2011 Aug 24;12:197. doi: 10.1186/1471-2474-12-197.

Molecular changes in articular cartilage and subchondral bone in the rat anterior cruciate ligament transection and meniscectomized models of osteoarthritis.

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  • 1Merck Sharpe & Dohme Corp,, Bone Biology Group, West Point, PA 19486, USA.



Osteoarthritis (OA) is a debilitating, progressive joint disease.


Similar to the disease progression in humans, sequential events of early cartilage degradation, subchondral osteopenia followed by sclerosis, and late osteophyte formation were demonstrated in the anterior cruciate ligament transection (ACLT) or ACLT with partial medial meniscectomy (ACLT + MMx) rat OA models. We describe a reliable and consistent method to examine the time dependent changes in the gene expression profiles in articular cartilage and subchondral bone.


Local regulation of matrix degradation markers was demonstrated by a significant increase in mRNA levels of aggrecanase-1 and MMP-13 as early as the first week post-surgery, and expression remained elevated throughout the 10 week study. Immunohistochemistry confirmed MMP-13 expression in differentiated chondrocytes and synovial fibroblasts at week-2 and cells within osteophytes at week-10 in the surgically-modified-joints. Concomitant increases in chondrocyte differentiation markers, Col IIA and Sox 9, and vascular invasion markers, VEGF and CD31, peaked around week-2 to -4, and returned to Sham levels at later time points in both models. Indeed, VEGF-positive cells were found in the deep articular chondrocytes adjacent to subchondral bone. Osteoclastic bone resorption markers, cathepsin K and TRAP, were also elevated at week-2. Confirming bone resorption is an early local event in OA progression, cathepsin K positive osteoclasts were found invading the articular cartilage from the subchondral region at week 2. This was followed by late disease events, including subchondral sclerosis and osteophyte formation, as demonstrated by the upregulation of the osteoanabolic markers runx2 and osterix, toward week-4 to 6 post-surgery.


In summary, this study demonstrated the temporal and cohesive gene expression changes in articular cartilage and subchondral bone using known markers of OA progression. The findings here support genome-wide profiling efforts to elucidate the sequential and complex regulation of the disease.

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