Frontiers in Bioscience-Landmark (FBL) is published by IMR Press from Volume 26 Issue 5 (2021). Previous articles were published by another publisher on a subscription basis, and they are hosted by IMR Press on imrpress.com as a courtesy and upon agreement with Frontiers in Bioscience.
There are few candidates for biochemical pathways that either initiate or amplify catabolic processes involved in osteoarthritis (OA). Perhaps, one of the most likely sources for such pathways may be within the extracellular matrix itself. This review focuses on an example of how specific degradation products of the extracellular matrix of cartilage, produced during proteolytic damage, have the potential to enhance OA-like processes. In this example, these products can induce or activate other factors, such as catabolic cytokines, that amplify the damage. The damage, in turn, enhances levels of the degradation products themselves, as in a positive feedback loop. Since these products are derived from the cartilage matrix, they could be considered barometers of the health of the cartilage that signal to the chondrocyte, through outside to inside signaling, the health or status of the surrounding matrix. The best example and most characterized system is that of fragments of the matrix protein, fibronectin (Fn), although as discussed later, other recently discovered fragment systems may also have the potential to regulate cartilage metabolism. In the case of Fn fragments (Fn-fs), the Fn-fs enhance levels of catabolic cytokines as in OA and, thus, are potentially earlier damage mediators than catabolic cytokines. The Fn-fs up-regulate matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) expression, significantly enhance degradation and loss of proteoglycan (PG) from cartilage and temporarily suppress PG synthesis, all events observed in OA. However, this Fn-f system may be involved in normal cartilage homeostasis as well. For example, low concentrations of Fn-fs enhance anabolic activities and could play a role in normal homeostasis. This system may also be involved in not only amplifying damage but also coupling damage to repair. For example, high concentrations of Fn-fs that might arise in OA temporarily offset the anabolic response of lower Fn-f concentrations and cause short-term enhanced catabolic events that are followed by slowly increasing anabolic responses. Such effects would be expected for mediators with roles in regulation of metabolism in both normal or diseased cartilage. Other products of matrix degradation have also been shown to regulate cartilage metabolism. A common mechanistic theme to these systems may be that they perturb the cartilage matrix and directly or indirectly alter function of specific receptors involved in metabolism. These concepts illustrate the potential of the cartilage matrix to regulate its composition in both health and disease.