Increased inflammation and pain are inseparable parts of knee osteoarthritis (OA) that may lead to disuse of the affected limb. The aim of this study was to examine the effects of knee OA on inflammation- and atrophy-related genes and proteins in the vastus lateralis muscle of patients with knee OA.
Nineteen patients with knee OA and 14 asymptomatic control subjects matched for age and body mass index underwent strength measurements and a muscle biopsy. Muscle was analyzed for the total cellular protein of inflammatory kinases (p65 NF-κB, JNK1/2, STAT-3, and suppressor of cytokine signaling 3 [SOCS-3]) and inflammatory intracellular molecules (interleukin-6 [IL-6], IL-8, monocyte chemoattractant protein 1 [MCP-1], tumor necrosis factor α [TNFα], IL-1β, and atrogin-1).
Knee OA resulted in greater levels of IL-6 protein (34%; P = 0.002). The levels of inflammatory kinases, including STAT-3 (187%; P = 0.002), p65 NF-κB (156%; P = 0.002), and JNK1 (179%; P = 0.027), were also elevated. Furthermore, elevated expression of gene transcripts encoding MCP-1 (28%; P = 0.023), TNFα (85%; P < 0.001), and SOCS-3 (38%; P = 0.055) was observed in patients with knee OA compared with control subjects. Patients with knee OA had reduced muscle strength compared with control subjects (mean ± SEM 84.7 ± 8.7 versus 143.1 ± 20.8 Nm; P = 0.005). Negative correlations were observed between muscle strength and MCP-1 protein abundance (r = −0.37 [P = 0.042]) and the gene expression of TNFα and atrogin-1 messenger RNA (r = −0.46 [P = 0.012] and r = −0.36 [P = 0.040], respectively).
Gene expression and the protein abundance of numerous muscle markers of inflammation and atrophy were elevated in patients with knee OA, and the increase in muscle inflammation was associated with a reduction in muscle strength. Given the role inflammation markers may play in muscle strength and atrophy, further studies are needed to investigate the effect of exercise intervention on skeletal muscle inflammation.