Targeting of chondrocyte plasticity via connexin43 modulation attenuates cellular senescence and fosters a pro-regenerative environment in osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis (OA), a chronic disease characterized by articular cartilage degeneration, is a leading cause of disability and pain worldwide. In OA, chondrocytes in cartilage undergo phenotypic changes and senescence, restricting cartilage regeneration and favouring disease progression. Similar to other wound-healing disorders, chondrocytes from OA patients show a chronic increase in the gap junction channel protein connexin43 (Cx43), which regulates signal transduction through the exchange of elements or recruitment/release of signalling factors. Although immature or stem-like cells are present in cartilage from OA patients, their origin and role in disease progression are unknown. In this study, we found that Cx43 acts as a positive regulator of chondrocyte-mesenchymal transition. Overactive Cx43 largely maintains the immature phenotype by increasing nuclear translocation of Twist-1 and tissue remodelling and proinflammatory agents, such as MMPs and IL-1β, which in turn cause cellular senescence through upregulation of p53, p16INK4a and NF-κB, contributing to the senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP). Downregulation of either Cx43 by CRISPR/Cas9 or Cx43-mediated gap junctional intercellular communication (GJIC) by carbenoxolone treatment triggered rediferentiation of osteoarthritic chondrocytes into a more differentiated state, associated with decreased synthesis of MMPs and proinflammatory factors, and reduced senescence. We have identified causal Cx43-sensitive circuit in chondrocytes that regulates dedifferentiation, redifferentiation and senescence. We propose that chondrocytes undergo chondrocyte-mesenchymal transition where increased Cx43-mediated GJIC during OA facilitates Twist-1 nuclear translocation as a novel mechanism involved in OA progression. These findings support the use of Cx43 as an appropriate therapeutic target to halt OA progression and to promote cartilage regeneration.

  • Authors: Varela-Eirín M., Varela-Vázquez A., Guitián-Caamaño A., Paíno C.L., Mato V., Largo R., Aasen T., Tabernero A., Fonseca E., Kandouz M., Caeiro J.R., Blanco A., Mayán, M.D.
  • Journal: Cell Death & Disease 9: 1166.

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