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A key signaling molecule in osteoarthritis is identified

Bethesda, MD- Using naturally-occurring mutant mice with a defective collagen gene, scientists at Harvard have identified a signaling molecule involved in one of the most common causes of disability among the elderly in the United States, osteoarthritis. Inhibitors of this molecule's signaling may eventually be used to slow down the progression of the disease, thus helping to relieve chronic pain in a large segment of the population.

The research appears as the "Paper of the Week" in the January 7 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, an American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology journal.

It is estimated that all individuals over the age of 75 are afflicted with osteoarthritis. The disease, which is actually a group of overlapping but distinct diseases with similar clinical outcomes, is most common form of arthritis. It is characterized by the breakdown of cartilage, which cushions the ends of bones, in the joints of the knees, hips, feet and back. This cartilage breakdown causes the bones to rub against each other, resulting in pain and loss of movement.

"The earliest indication of the disease is a gradual loss of large molecules called proteoglycans from the surface of the joint cartilage," notes Dr. Yefu Li of the Harvard School of Dental Medicine. "This results in a decrease in the mechanical strength of cartilage. At the same time, cells proliferate and form clusters. Then cracks in the cartilage gradually develop and the cracks are filled with a fibrous tissue; this is considered to be the result of unsuccessful attempts by the cartilage cells to repair the cracks. Finally, bony structures, called osteophytes, are formed at the periphery of the joint. The end result is loss of joint function."

Although the causes of osteoarthritis are diverse, mutations in two types of collagens, type IX and XI, have been linked to early-onset osteoarthritis. However, the link between the collagen mutations and the p
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Contact: Nicole Kresge
nkresge@asbmb.org
301-634-7415
American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
3-Jan-2005


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