Public Release: 

Exercise helps prevent cartilage damage caused by arthritis

Queen Mary University of London

Exercise helps to prevent the degradation of cartilage caused by osteoarthritis, according to a new study from Queen Mary University of London.

The researchers show for the first time how mechanical forces experienced by cells in joints during exercise prevent cartilage degradation by suppressing the action of inflammatory molecules which cause osteoarthritis.

The study, published in the journal Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, demonstrates the benefits of exercise on the tissues that form our joints and how this is down to tiny hair-like structures called primary cilia found on living cells.

During exercise the cartilage in joints such as the hip and knee is squashed. This mechanical distortion is detected by the living cells in the cartilage which then block the action of inflammatory molecules associated with conditions such as arthritis.

The researchers show that this anti-inflammatory effect of physical activity is caused by activation of a particular protein, called HDAC6, which triggers changes in the proteins that form primary cilia.

Pharmaceutical drugs that blocked HDAC6 activation prevented the anti-inflammatory effects of physical activity, whilst other drug treatments were able to mimic the benefits of exercise.

Changes in length of the primary cilia, which are only a few 1000th of a millimetre, provided a biomarker of the level of inflammation. Cilia got longer during inflammation, but treatments that prevented this elongation successfully prevented inflammation.

Mr Su Fu, PhD student at Queen Mary University of London and study author, said: "We have known for some time that healthy exercise is good for you - now we know the process through which exercise prevents cartilage degradation."

Professor Martin Knight, lead researcher of the study added: "These findings may also explain the anti-inflammatory effects of normal blood flow in arteries which is important for preventing arterial disease such as atherosclerosis and aneurism."

The researchers hope that these findings will help in the search for treatments for arthritis which affects over three million people in the UK causing stiff and painful joints.

The researchers suggest the results may lead to a whole new therapeutic approach known as mechano-medicine in which drugs simulate the effect of mechanical forces to prevent the damaging effects of inflammation and treat conditions such as arthritis.

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* Research paper: 'Mechanical loading inhibits cartilage inflammatory signalling via an HDAC6 and IFT-dependent mechanism regulating primary cilia elongation'. Su Fu, Clare L Thompson, Ahmed Ali, Wen Wang, Paul Chapple, Hannah M Mitchison, Phil L Beales, Angus K Wann, Martin M Knight. Osteoarthritis and Cartilage.

* Link to the paper: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.joca.2019.03.003

Contact:

Rupert Marquand
PR Officer
Queen Mary University of London
r.marquand@qmul.ac.uk
Tel: 020 7882 3004

About Queen Mary University of London

Queen Mary University of London is a world-leading research-intensive university with over 25,000 students representing more than 160 nationalities.

A member of the prestigious Russell Group, we work across the humanities and social sciences, medicine and dentistry, and science and engineering, with inspirational teaching directly informed by our research.

In the most recent exercise that rated research in the UK, we were ranked 5th in the country for the proportion of research outputs that were world-leading or internationally excellent. We offer more than 240 degree programmes and our reputation for excellent teaching was rewarded with silver in the 2017 Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) awards.

Queen Mary's history dates back to 1785, with the foundation of the London Hospital Medical College. Our history also encompasses the establishment of the People's Palace in 1887, which brought accessible education, culture and recreation to the East End of London. We also have roots in Westfield College, one of the first colleges to provide higher education to women.

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