Mechanical impact induces cartilage degradation via mitogen activated protein kinases

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To determine the activation of Mitogen activated protein (MAP) kinases in and around cartilage subjected to mechanical damage and to determine the effects of their inhibitors on impaction-induced chondrocyte death and cartilage degeneration.


The phosphorylation of MAP kinases was examined with confocal microscopy and immunoblotting. The effects of MAP kinase inhibitors on impaction-induced chondrocyte death and proteoglycan (PG) loss were determined with fluorescent microscopy and 1, 9-Dimethyl-Methylene Blue (DMMB) assay. The expression of catabolic genes at mRNA levels was examined with quantitative real-time PCR.


Early p38 activation was detected at 20 min and 1 h post-impaction. At 24 h, enhanced phosphorylation of p38 and extracellular signal-regulated protein kinase (ERK)1/2 was visualized in chondrocytes from in and around impact sites. The phosphorylation of p38 was increased by 3.0-fold in impact sites and 3.3-fold in adjacent cartilage. The phosphorylation of ERK-1 was increased by 5.8-fold in impact zone and 5.4-fold in adjacent cartilage; the phosphorylation of ERK-2 increased by 4.0-fold in impacted zone and 3.6-fold in adjacent cartilage. Furthermore, the blocking of p38 pathway did not inhibit impaction-induced ERK activation. The inhibition of p38 or ERK pathway significantly reduced injury-related chondrocyte death and PG losses. Quantitative Real-time PCR analysis revealed that blunt impaction significantly up-regulated matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-13, Tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α, and ADAMTS-5 expression.


These findings implicate p38 and ERK mitogen activated protein kinases (MAPKs) in the post-injury spread of cartilage degeneration and suggest that the risk of post-traumatic osteoarthritis (PTOA) following joint trauma could be decreased by blocking their activities, which might be involved in up-regulating expressions of MMP-13, ADAMTS-5, and TNF-α.