New Research Could Expose Causes of Arthritis: A HealthCentral Explainer

CRegal Editor
  • Three new studies may have shed some light on the causes of arthritis, and the pain and inflammation that accompany the condition.  More than 27 million Americans now suffer from osteoarthritis, so finding a biological source of the problem would help with early diagnosis and treatment.  (CDC, 2011). 

    Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition of the cartilage surrounding a joint that provides padding between the bones.  When the cartilage begins to break down, the joint becomes painful, stiff and often swollen.  It’s estimated that nearly 50 percent of those over 65 suffer from osteoarthritis and many end up taking anti-inflammatory medications. In some cases, joints have degenerated to the point where replacement surgery is the only viable option. 

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    Obesity, lack of exercise and joint injury can often lead directly to osteoarthritis.  But the new research suggests that biological factors also can be identified and allow people to start dealing with the condition before the pain becomes debilitating.

    [SLIDESHOW: 10 Surprising Facts About Arthritis]

    The first study, published in the Journal of Knee Surgery has identified specific biomarkers that can determine if a patient is developing the disease--even before the onset of symptoms--and also reflect the potential severity of the condition.  Now doctors must wait for the appearance of symptoms – pain, stiffness and swelling – before they begin treatment and by then, it’s late to take any preventative steps. But researchers from the University of Missouri say they’ve identified specific proteins in a joint that are known to be associated with arthritis.  That could help identify people who are at higher risk of developing arthritis and could lead to more productive prevention efforts.   The test is currently waiting for FDA approval.

    In another study, published in ACS Chemical Biology, scientists  have been able to isolate a particular enzyme that is present in inflammatory conditions, including arthritis.  The researchers say they have developed a chemical compound that can block this enzyme (protein arginine methyltransferase 1).  According to the research, the problematic enzyme "modifies the functionality of proteins by attaching to the methyl group to their arginine amino acids," which can interfere with key immune-stimulating processes (Scripps, 2012).  Though this treatment seems promising, it likely is still quite a ways from widespread implementation.  

    [TAKE A QUIZ: Do You Know What Causes Arthritis?]

    The third study has found the apparent source of inflammation: tiny "organelles" called primary cilia that exist within cells.  The research by scientists at the Queen Mary's School of Engineering and Materials Science in London, exposed cartilage cells to a group of inflammatory proteins and studied the reaction of the primary cilia.  When certain proteins were introduced, the cilia increased in length by 50 percent – essentially they became inflamed.  "If we can work out how to better manipulate the primary cilium, we could potentially … prevent inflammation," said Dr. Angus Wann, co-author of the study.

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    With so many people suffering from arthritis, any advances in identifying, preventing and controlling the condition would be a welcome step forward.  Though none of these studies may yield immediate changes, they could greatly benefit future generations.



    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  (1 August 2011).  Arthritis-Related Statistics.  Retrieved from

    Queen Mary, University of London. (10 May 2012). "Tiny Organelles Called Primary Cilia Hold The Key To Combat Inflammation." Medical News Today. Retrieved from

    Scripps Research Institute. (15 May 2012). "Compounds To Block Immune-Regulating Enzyme." Medical News Today. Retrieved from

    University of Missouri-Columbia.  (17 May 2012).  Predicting Arthritis at a Much Earlier Stage with New Biomarker Test.  Retrieved from

Published On: May 18, 2012