Tissue catabolism and donor-specific dexamethasone response in a human osteochondral model of post-traumatic osteoarthritis

Rebecca Mae Black, Lisa L. Flaman, Karin Lindblom, Susan Chubinskaya, Alan J. Grodzinsky, Patrik Önnerfjord

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Background: Post-traumatic osteoarthritis (PTOA) does not currently have clinical prognostic biomarkers or disease-modifying drugs, though promising candidates such as dexamethasone (Dex) exist. Many challenges in studying and treating this disease stem from tissue interactions that complicate understanding of drug effects. We present an ex vivo human osteochondral model of PTOA to investigate disease effects on cartilage and bone homeostasis and discover biomarkers for disease progression and drug efficacy. Methods: Human osteochondral explants were harvested from normal (Collins grade 0–1) ankle talocrural joints of human donors (2 female, 5 male, ages 23–70). After pre-equilibration, osteochondral explants were treated with a single-impact mechanical injury and TNF-α, IL-6, and sIL-6R ± 100 nM Dex for 21 days and media collected every 2–3 days. Chondrocyte viability, tissue DNA content, and glycosaminoglycan (sGAG) percent loss to the media were assayed and compared to untreated controls using a linear mixed effects model. Mass spectrometry analysis was performed for both cartilage tissue and pooled culture medium, and the statistical significance of protein abundance changes was determined with the R package limma and empirical Bayes statistics. Partial least squares regression analyses of sGAG loss and Dex attenuation of sGAG loss against proteomic data were performed. Results: Injury and cytokine treatment caused an increase in the release of matrix components, proteases, pro-inflammatory factors, and intracellular proteins, while tissue lost intracellular metabolic proteins, which was mitigated with the addition of Dex. Dex maintained chondrocyte viability and reduced sGAG loss caused by injury and cytokine treatment by 2/3 overall, with donor-specific differences in the sGAG attenuation effect. Biomarkers of bone metabolism had mixed effects, and collagen II synthesis was suppressed with both disease and Dex treatment by 2- to 5-fold. Semitryptic peptides associated with increased sGAG loss were identified. Pro-inflammatory humoral proteins and apolipoproteins were associated with lower Dex responses. Conclusions: Catabolic effects on cartilage tissue caused by injury and cytokine treatment were reduced with the addition of Dex in this osteochondral PTOA model. This study presents potential peptide biomarkers of early PTOA progression and Dex efficacy that can help identify and treat patients at risk of PTOA.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number137
JournalArthritis Research and Therapy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Biomarkers
  • Cartilage matrix
  • Cytokines
  • Dexamethasone
  • Mass spectrometry
  • Post-traumatic osteoarthritis
  • Proteomics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rheumatology
  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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