IL-15 and IL15RA in Osteoarthritis: Association With Symptoms and Protease Production, but Not Structural Severity

Sophie C. Warner, Anjali Nair, Rahul Marpadga, Susan Chubinskaya, Michael Doherty, Ana M. Valdes, Carla R. Scanzello

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Objective: Interleukin-15 (IL-15) is a pro-inflammatory cytokine that is increased in joint fluids of early-stage osteoarthritis (OA) patients, and has been associated with expression of proteases that can damage cartilage, and the development of neuropathic pain-like symptoms (NP) after nerve injury. The objective of this study was to further explore the role of IL-15 in the pathogenesis of OA cartilage degeneration and test genetic variation in the IL-15 receptor α gene (IL15RA) for an association with OA with radiographic severity and symptoms. Methods: Cartilage samples from donors (n = 10) were analyzed for expression of the IL15 receptor α-chain using immunohistochemistry, and for responses to IL-15 in vitro using explant cultures. Data from two independent Nottinghamshire-based studies (n = 795 and n = 613) were used to test genetic variants in the IL15RA gene (rs2228059 and rs7097780) for an association with radiographic severity, symptomatic vs. asymptomatic OA and NP. Results: IL-15Rα was expressed in chondrocytes from cartilage obtained from normal and degenerative knees. IL-15 significantly increased the release of matrix metalloproteinase-1 and -3 (MMP-1 and -3), but did not affect loss of proteoglycan from the articular matrix. Genetic variants in the IL15RA gene are associated with risk of symptomatic vs. asymptomatic OA (rs7097780 OR = 1.48 95% 1.10–1.98 p < 0.01) and with the risk of NP post-total joint replacement (rs2228059 OR = 0.76 95% 0.63–0.92 p < 0.01) but not with radiographic severity. Conclusions: In two different cohorts of patients, we show an association between genetic variation at the IL15 receptor and pain. Although ex vivo cartilage explants could respond to IL-15 with increased protease production, we found no effect of IL-15 on cartilage matrix loss and no association between IL15RA variants and radiographic severity. Together, these results suggest that IL-15 signaling may be a target for pain, but may not impact structural progression, in OA.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1385
JournalFrontiers in immunology
StatePublished - Jul 23 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • inflammation
  • interleukin-15
  • interleukins
  • neuropathic pain
  • neuropathic pain-like symptoms
  • osteoarthritis
  • pain
  • proteases

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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