Chondrocytes from osteoarthritis patients adopt distinct phenotypes in response to central th1/th2/th17 cytokines

Antti Pemmari, Tiina Leppänen, Mari Hämäläinen, Teemu Moilanen, Eeva Moilanen

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Chronic low-grade inflammation plays a central role in the pathogenesis of osteoarthritis (OA), and several pro-and anti-inflammatory cytokines have been implicated to mediate and regulate this process. Out of these cytokines, particularly IFNγ, IL-1β, IL-4 and IL-17 are associated with different phenotypes of T helper (TH) cells and macrophages, both examples of cells known for great phenotypic and functional heterogeneity. Chondrocytes also display various phenotypic changes during the course of arthritis. We set out to study the hypothesis of whether chondrocytes might adopt polarized phenotypes analogous to TH cells and macrophages. We studied the effects of IFNγ, IL-1β, IL-4 and IL-17 on gene expression in OA chondrocytes with RNA-Seq. Chondrocytes were harvested from the cartilage of OA patients undergoing knee replacement surgery and then cultured with or without the cytokines for 24 h. Total RNA was isolated and sequenced, and GO (Gene Ontology) functional analysis was performed. We also separately investigated genes linked to OA in recent genome wide expression analysis (GWEA) studies. The expression of more than 2800 genes was significantly altered in chondrocytes treated with IL-1β [in the C(IL-1β) phenotype] with a fold change (FC) > 2.5 in either direction. These included a large number of genes associated with inflammation, cartilage degradation and attenuation of metabolic signaling. The profile of genes differentially affected by IFNγ (the C(IFNγ) phenotype) was relatively distinct from that of the C(IL-1β) phenotype and included several genes associated with antigen processing and presentation. The IL-17-induced C(IL-17) phenotype was characterized by the induction of a more limited set of proinflammatory factors compared to C(IL-1β) cells. The C(IL-4) phenotype induced by IL-4 displayed a differential expression of a rather small set of genes compared with control, primarily those associated with TGFβ signaling and the regulation of inflammation. In conclusion, our results show that OA chondrocytes can adopt diverse phenotypes partly analogously to TH cells and macrophages. This phenotypic plasticity may play a role in the pathogenesis of arthritis and open new therapeutic avenues for the development of disease-modifying treatments for (osteo)arthritis.

Original languageEnglish
Article number9463
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number17
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Chondrocyte
  • IFNγ, IL-17
  • IL-1β
  • IL-4
  • RNA-Seq

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Molecular Biology
  • Spectroscopy
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry


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