Recent Study Points to a New Means of Osteoarthritis Prevention
A Debilitating Issue
Osteoarthritis, also known as “degenerative joint disease,” is incredibly common; 13 percent of women and 10 percent of men over the age of 60 suffer with it.  In the general population, the numbers are equally galling, with an estimated 30 million adults experiencing the condition. In these cases, cartilage that cushions joints—usually in the hip, knee, or hands—breaks down, leading to pain and inflammation.
Treatment approaches vary, though often surgery is recommended. However, a recent study conducted at San Diego, CA’s Scripps Research Institute have found a potential pathway to preventing osteoarthritis from forming in the first place.  The researchers, under the direction of Dr. Tokio Matsuzaki, found that a protein, “FoxO,” plays an essential role in joint health. If levels of this were elevated, they reason, formation of osteoarthritis could slow or even cease altogether.
Is this the key to putting the brakes on this debilitating condition? Let’s take a closer look.
As is common in research, Dr. Matsuzaki and the team relied on mice to isolate and test the influence of FoxO. Specifically, they looked at a population of subjects that were bred without this protein and compared them with controls that were. Over time, they found that the test mice developed joint deterioration at much younger ages. Further, these protein-lacking mice performed significantly worse on treadmill tests and were more likely to develop osteoarthritis and experience knee injury. 
Clearly, something is afoot with FoxO. In light of such a dramatic effect, the researchers needed to figure out what, exactly, was happening.
Autophagy & Arthritis Development
Among the functions of FoxO is its influence on a very important biological process: “autophagy.” This is when unnecessary or unneeded cellular components are literally “eaten” as part of the process of repair and rejuvenation.  This essential activity helps ensure the health of joints, and abnormalities with the process inevitably lead to problems.
Not only that, FoxO was also found to serve in protecting cell structures from “free radicals,” which are natural byproducts of the body that become damaging when levels get too elevated.
In addition, this protein was found to help regulate levels of a lubricin, a protein that helps protect cartilage from wear and tear. 
In many ways, then, abnormalities with FoxO mean that joints aren’t getting the necessary restoration and “cleaning.” The end result of this? Inflammation, pain, and the development of osteoarthritis.
Prevention in Plain View
What these findings indicate is that boosting levels of FoxO may be a means of stopping osteoarthritis in its tracks and preventing it from forming in the first place.  This protein is central in regulating inflammation and joint health, and increased levels of it could be key in long-term health.
This being the case, the next step, according to the researchers, would be to figure out a means of providing this boost. Their plan is to develop specialized molecules that increase FoxO levels and test to see whether these positively impact the health of the joints. It’ll be a while, of course, before this becomes a viable treatment approach, but the good news is that an effective means of osteoarthritis prevention may be within our sights.
Taking on The Pain
While there’s more work to be done, there’s no doubt that medical understanding of osteoarthritis is growing. The more we know about this condition, the better and more effective treatment will become. While prevention through boosting FoxO expression isn’t yet an option, there’s plenty of room for hope. Increasingly, surgeries and other approaches are getting refined and making treatment of this painful condition more effective.
What this means, for the many that suffer with osteoarthritis, is that they need not suffer in silence. With the right help, and the right approach to treatment, an end to the pain and discomfort is possible.
If you’re interested in learning more about osteoarthritis treatment, talk to a Patient Care Manager at Onward Orthopedics. The experts here employ the latest in techniques and technologies to ensure the best possible outcomes for their patients. Find out more about what they do by calling (800) 577-1693 today!
- Zhang, Y. and Jordan, J. (2010). Epidemiology of Osteoarthritis. Clinics in Geriatric Medicine, 26(3), pp.355-369.
- Whiteman, Honor. 2018. “Osteoarthritis: Could Researchers Have Found The Key To Prevention?”. Medical News Today. Accessed March 11 2018. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320951.php.
- Matsuzaki, Tokio, Oscar Alvarez-Garcia, Sho Mokuda, Keita Nagira, Merissa Olmer, Ramya Gamini, and Kohei Miyata et al. 2018. “Foxo Transcription Factors Modulate Autophagy And Proteoglycan 4 In Cartilage Homeostasis And Osteoarthritis”. Science Translational Medicine10 (428): eaan0746. American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). doi:10.1126/scitranslmed.aan0746.