Background: Subchondral bone (SCB) thickening is one of the earliest detectable changes in osteoarthritic joints and is considered a potential trigger for subsequent articular cartilage degeneration. In this manuscript, we examine whether disruption to the SCB osteocyte network contributes to the initiation and pathogenesis of osteoarthritis. Methods: We examined expression patterns of the glycoprotein E11/podoplanin by immunohistochemical labelling in murine, human and canine osteoarthritis models. We also examined the effects of twice-weekly administration of Bortezomib, a proteasome inhibitor which stabilises osteocyte E11 levels, to C57/BL6 wild-type male mice (1 mg/kg/day) for 8 weeks after surgical destabilisation of the medial meniscus. By inducing osteoarthritis-like changes in the right knee joint of 12-week-old male E11 hypomorphic mice (and corresponding controls) using a post-traumatic joint loading model, we also investigated whether a bone-specific E11 deletion in mice increases joint vulnerability to osteoarthritis. Articular cartilage degradation and osteophyte formation were assessed by histology and in line with the OARSI grading system. Results: Our studies reveal increased E11 expression in osteocytes of human and canine osteoarthritic SCB. We found that Bortezomib administration had no effect on surgically-induced osteoarthritis, potentially due to a lack of the expected stabilisation of E11 in the SCB. We also found, in concordance with our previous work, wild-type mice exhibited significant load-induced articular cartilage lesions on the lateral femoral condyle (p < 0.01) and osteophyte formation. In contrast, E11 hypomorphic mice did not develop osteophytes or any corresponding articular lesions. Conclusions: Overall, these data suggest that an intact osteocyte network in the SCB contributes to the development of mechanically-driven osteoarthritis. Further, the data presented here indicate that the molecular pathways that preserve the osteocyte network, such as those driven by E11, may be targeted to limit osteoarthritis pathogenesis.
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- Subchondral bone