US researchers have identified a new treatment approach that could potentially prevent osteoarthritis, according to a study published online in Nature Communications.
The study, led by researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center, focused on adenosine, a biochemical at the heart of human cellular function.
The research team found that maintaining high levels of adenosine in rats with damage to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), which is known to lead to osteoarthritis in humans, prevented the rats from developing the disease.
If these findings are matched in humans, the study authors believe that adenosine replacement therapy could potentially delay the onset of osteoarthritis and the need for joint replacements.
“We found that if adenosine levels decrease, or if the capacity to respond to adenosine diminishes, cartilage starts to degenerate,” explained study senior investigator Dr Bruce Cronstein from NYU Langone.
Adenosine is derived from adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the molecule that stores the energy needed by the body’s cells until they break it up to use it. According to NYU Langone, scientists have known that both inflammation and ageing lead to diminished ATP production — and so lower adenosine levels — in chondrocytes (the cells that make and sustain cartilage). But until now, they had not linked diminished adenosine levels to the development of osteoarthritis.
When the team administered adenosine packaged in lipid bubbles into rats’ ACL injuries, they found that the excess adenosine prevented the development of osteoarthritis in the animals.
Dr Cronstein hopes that related future therapies would prevent or delay the need for joint replacements in some patients.
“Because joints may have to be replaced again and again, if we can put off the need for joint replacement until later in life, odds are that patients will only have to have this done once,” he said.