eCM (Eur Cell Mater / e Cells & Materials) Not-for-profit Open Access
Created by Scientists, for Scientists
 ISSN:1473-2262         NLM:100973416 (link)         DOI:10.22203/eCM

2018   Volume No 37 – pages 74-87

Title: Osteoarthritis as an organ disease: from the cradle to the grave

Authors: RM Aspden, FR Saunders

Address: Aberdeen Centre for Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Health, University of Aberdeen

E-mail: r.aspden at

Abstract: Considered for decades as a cartilage disease, recent studies of osteoarthritis (OA) take us back to the concepts discussed at the naming of the disorder as “bone-joint-inflammation”. By describing the joint as an organ, can OA be called an organ disease – similar to heart disease? Is there a systemic (which system?) involvement? Would this help with diagnosis or therapy? Hyperplasia of the joint tissues is one of the most notable early features of the disease: articular cartilage thickens, chondrocytes proliferate and increase matrix biosynthesis, but not its incorporation; the subchondral bone densifies but is hypomineralised and there is an increase in bone marrow fat content. Associations between OA and hypertension, hypercholesterolaemia and blood glucose suggest systemic and metabolic components are involved. The source of pain is still unknown but here is evidence for peripheral and central sensitisation. Joint deformity is difficult to quantify, but statistical shape modelling provides a tool to use as an imaging biomarker. A genome-wide association study meta-analysis has identified novel genes associated with hip shape with many genes related to tissue growth and development. There are associations between hip shapes and age of first walking as well as with obesity through adulthood. These life-course events and a recapitulation in old age of developmental processes suggest that the cradle may affect our path to the grave. These observations suggest that tissue regeneration approaches, treating only the cartilage in OA joints, may only be of limited benefit.

Key Words: Osteoarthritis, joint, systemic disease, metabolic disease, aetiology, growth, hyperplasia, development.

Publication date: January 30th 2019

Article download: Pages 74-87 (PDF file)

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