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Tarantula Venom Could Help Avoid Cartilage Injury

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Research in the United States may lead to new treatments for protecting joints and preventing the pain associated with cartilage injuries.

Duke University scientists and their collaborators say they have come a step closer to understanding how cartilage senses injury-causing mechanical strain at the cellular level. They found that a pair of ion channels, Piezo1 and Piezo2, work together to cause cartilage cells to die off.

Building on this finding, the researchers were able to block these channels by using GsMTx4, a substance found in tarantula venom. This prevented cell death caused when cartilage experienced mechanical strain, Duke University reported.

“The most exciting thing about this study was that it shows that cells in your cartilage, which people don´t think of as a typical sensory cell, have multiple sensory systems,” commented Farshid Guilak, the Laszlo Ormandy Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Duke and one of the study´s senior authors.

Earlier this year, in a separate study, the research team proved that physical activity is good for cartilage, showing that gentle mechanical stimulation of cartilage cells (similar to that experienced during mild exercise) promotes their health by activating the ion channel TRPV4. Mice lacking TRPV4 channels are more likely to develop osteoarthritis.

In the new study, the researchers investigated the response of cartilage cells (chondrocytes) to more strenuous mechanical stress and established that synthetic GsMTx4 protected joint tissue living in a petri dish from cell death following compressive injury. They also found that knocking out each Piezo channel using gene expression interference made individual chondrocytes more resilient to forceful compression.

Future studies will examine how exactly Piezo1 and Piezo2 work together, the role of these channels (and GsMTx4) in a living animal, and whether the new findings can be used for treatment of post-traumatic joint injury and joint pain.

The results of the study have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.