Suggestion of nonlinear or phasic progression of knee osteoarthritis based on measurements of serum cartilage oligomeric matrix protein levels over five years




In many patients with knee osteoarthritis (OA), the disease progresses, and there is loss of cartilage; in others, the disease stabilizes with time. Previous studies have demonstrated that concentrations of serum proteins that reflect joint tissue metabolism can identify knees that will deteriorate, leading to the suggestion that OA disease activity is phasic or cyclical. The aim of the current study was to determine whether longitudinal measurements of one such protein, serum cartilage oligomeric matrix protein (COMP), are related to disease outcome over a 5-year period.


Serum COMP levels were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay at study entry and every 6 months thereafter in 115 patients with knee pain and OA of mainly the tibiofemoral joint. Cartilage loss was determined from knee radiographs taken at entry and at 24, 36, and 60 months. Disease progression was defined as either a reduction in the tibiofemoral joint space width by at least 2 mm or total knee replacement (TKR) in either knee at followup. COMP concentrations at baseline and the area under the curve (AUC) of measurements obtained over 5 years were compared between progressors and nonprogressors by Student's 2-tailed t-test. The patterns and probability of progression according to TKR or ≥2 mm of narrowing of the tibiofemoral joint space were analyzed by logistic regression models.


The mean ± SD ages of the progressors and nonprogressors were 64.2 ± 7.8 years and 63.3 ± 10.6 years, respectively, and the proportion of females was 51% and 56%, respectively. Of the 37 patients whose OA progressed (22 by TKR and 15 by ≥2-mm reduction in tibiofemoral joint space), 13 lost cartilage during the first 2 years, and 18 lost cartilage during the last 2 years. The mean ± SD serum COMP concentration at baseline was significantly higher in the progressors compared with the nonprogressors (14.12 ± 3.39 units/liter versus 12.62 ± 3.25 units/liter; P < 0.036). Serum COMP levels rose significantly after TKR; however, after allowing for the effect of TKR, the AUC/month was significantly higher in the progressors compared with the nonprogressors (12.52 ± 2.71 versus 10.82 ± 2.71; P < 0.003). Serum COMP concentrations were higher during periods of radiographic progression and identified periods of progression that were nonlinear. Logistic regression analysis showed that on average, a 1-unit increase in serum COMP levels increased the probability of radiographic progression by 15%.


The data suggest that serum COMP is related to progressive joint damage in knee OA. The patterns of progression for the early and late progressors are consistent with the hypothesis that knee OA progression is episodic or phasic. Large between-subject variation precludes the use of individual values to predict progression with confidence. However, sequential measurements of serum COMP levels may identify patients whose OA is likely to progress over the next year or two.