Mechanical loading significantly influences the physiology and pathology of articular cartilage, although the mechanisms of mechanical signal transduction are not fully understood. Transient receptor potential vanilloid 4 (TRPV4) is a Ca++-permeable ion channel that is highly expressed by articular chondrocytes and can be gated by osmotic and mechanical stimuli. The goal of this study was to determine the role of Trpv4 in the structure of the mouse knee joint and to determine whether Trpv4–/– mice exhibit altered Ca++ signaling in response to osmotic challenge.
Knee joints of Trpv4–/– mice were examined histologically and by microfocal computed tomography for osteoarthritic changes and bone structure at ages 4, 6, 9, and 12 months. Fluorescence imaging was used to quantify chondrocytic Ca++ signaling within intact femoral cartilage in response to osmotic stimuli.
Deletion of Trpv4 resulted in severe osteoarthritic changes, including cartilage fibrillation, eburnation, and loss of proteoglycans, that were dependent on age and male sex. Subchondral bone volume and calcified meniscal volume were greatly increased, again in male mice. Chondrocytes from Trpv4+/+ mice demonstrated significant Ca++ responses to hypo-osmotic stress but not to hyperosmotic stress. The response to hypo-osmotic stress or to the TRPV4 agonist 4α-phorbol 12,13-didecanoate was eliminated in Trpv4–/– mice.
Deletion of Trpv4 leads to a lack of osmotically induced Ca++ signaling in articular chondrocytes, accompanied by progressive, sex-dependent increases in bone density and osteoarthritic joint degeneration. These findings suggest a critical role for TRPV4-mediated Ca++ signaling in the maintenance of joint health and normal skeletal structure.