It remains to be shown whether OA shares molecular similarities between different joints in humans. This study provides evidence for similarities in cartilage molecular damage in osteoarthritic (OA) joints. Articular cartilage from osteoarthritic hip joints were analysed and compared to non-OA controls regarding collagen, glycosaminoglycan and water content. Femoral heads from 16 osteoarthritic (OA) and 20 reference patients were obtained from hip replacement surgery due to OA and femoral neck fracture, respectively. Cartilage histological changes were assessed by Mankin grading and denatured collagen type II immunostaining and cartilage was extracted by α-chymotrypsin. Hydroxyproline and Alcian blue binding assays were used to measure collagen and glycosaminoglycan (GAG) content, respectively. Mankin and immunohistology scores were significantly higher in hip OA samples than in reference samples. Cartilage water content was 6% higher in OA samples than in references. 2.5 times more collagen was extracted from OA than from reference samples. There was a positive association between water content and percentage of extractable collagen pool (ECP) in both groups. The amounts of collagen per wet and dry weights did not differ statistically between OA and reference cartilage. % Extractable collagen was not related to collagen per dry weight in either group. However when collagen was expressed by wet weight there was a negative correlation between % extractable and collagen in OA cartilage. The amount of GAG per wet weight was similar in both groups but the amount of GAG per dry weight was higher in OA samples compared to reference samples, which suggests a capacity for GAG biosynthesis in hip OA cartilage. Neither of the studied parameters was related to age in either group. Increased collagen extractability and water content in human hip cartilage is associated with OA pathology and can be observed at early stages of the degenerative hip OA process. Our results suggest a common degradative pathway of collagen in articular cartilage of different joints. Furthermore, the study suggests that biochemical changes precede more overt OA changes and that chondrocytes may have a capability to compensate molecular loss in the early phase of OA.
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