Lack of specific collagen type leads to osteoarthritis

DURHAM, N.C. Duke University Medical Center researchers have found that joints whose cartilage lacks a specific type of collagen will develop osteoarthritis the so-called "wear-and-tear" form of the disease at a greatly accelerated rate.

The results of their experiments with mice provide new insights that could lead to potential treatments for a disease that afflicts more than 40 million Americans, said the researchers.

The researchers found that mice lacking the gene that controls the production of type VI collagen developed osteoarthritis at a rate more than five times greater than mice with a functioning gene. Collagen is a ubiquitous protein found throughout the body in connective tissue, muscle, cartilage and bone. To date, 27 different types have been identified.

To examine structures within the cartilage of mouse joints, Leonidas Alexopoulos, Ph.D., developed a novel "micro-vacuuming" technique. With this device, Alexopoulos extracted key structures within the cartilage of mouse hip joints, which are the size of the ball in a ball-point pen, and analyzed how they responded to the stresses of everyday life.

Alexopoulos presented the results of the Duke study Feb. 20, 2005, at the 51th annual scientific meeting of the Orthopedic Research Society in Washington, D.C. Alexopoulos, now a post-doctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, conducted the research in the laboratory of Farshid Guilak, Ph.D., director of orthopedic research and senior member of the Duke team. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

The researchers focused their attention on the narrow region of tissue that surrounds the cartilage cells on the surface of joints and is known as the pericellular matrix (PCM). Together with cartilage cells known as chondrocytes, collagen types II, VI and IX, and other proteins, the PCM forms a structure called a chondron, which is believed to provide a "buffer" zone between the cel

Contact: Richard Merritt
Duke University Medical Center

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