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PLoS One. 2018 Jan 12;13(1):e0191045. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0191045. eCollection 2018.

Classification of patients with knee osteoarthritis in clinical phenotypes: Data from the osteoarthritis initiative.

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Institute of Applied Health Research/ School of Health and Life Sciences, Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow, Scotland.



The existence of phenotypes has been hypothesized to explain the large heterogeneity characterizing the knee osteoarthritis. In a previous systematic review of the literature, six main phenotypes were identified: Minimal Joint Disease (MJD), Malaligned Biomechanical (MB), Chronic Pain (CP), Inflammatory (I), Metabolic Syndrome (MS) and Bone and Cartilage Metabolism (BCM). The purpose of this study was to classify a sample of individuals with knee osteoarthritis (KOA) into pre-defined groups characterized by specific variables that can be linked to different disease mechanisms, and compare these phenotypes for demographic and health outcomes.


599 patients were selected from the OAI database FNIH at 24 months' time to conduct the study. For each phenotype, cut offs of key variables were identified matching the results from previous studies in the field and the data available for the sample. The selection process consisted of 3 steps. At the end of each step, the subjects classified were excluded from the further classification stages. Patients meeting the criteria for more than one phenotype were classified separately into a 'complex KOA' group.


Phenotype allocation (including complex KOA) was successful for 84% of cases with an overlap of 20%. Disease duration was shorter in the MJD while the CP phenotype included a larger number of Women (81%). A significant effect of phenotypes on WOMAC pain (F = 16.736 p <0.001) and WOMAC physical function (F = 14.676, p < 0.001) was identified after controlling for disease duration.


This study signifies the feasibility of a classification of KOA subjects in distinct phenotypes based on subgroup-specific characteristics.

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