Osteoarthritis is a common condition among aging adults, and recent studies have linked it to senescent cells. Keep reading to learn more.
In this article:
- What Are Senescent Cells?
- What Is Osteoarthritis?
- What Is the Link Between Senescent Cells and Osteoarthritis?
- How Does This Impact the Treatment of Osteoarthritis?
- How Can You Eliminate Senescent Cells?
Understanding the Connection Between Senescent Cells and Osteoarthritis
Ok Hee Jeon, Nathaniel David, Judith Campisi, and Jennifer H. Elisseff recently published the journal article “Senescent cells and osteoarthritis: a painful connection.” It came out in the 2018 issue of The Journal of Clinical Investigation.
What Are Senescent Cells?
Senescent cells are cells that stop dividing. But, they continue to remain metabolically active because they resist apoptosis.
What is apoptosis? This refers to the death of cells. When cells die, the body can eliminate and excrete them.
When cells enter this state, they are unable to regenerate or begin the cellular repair. Over time, it affects tissue homeostasis.
The body’s internal environment then becomes less stable.
The following factors can turn healthy cells into senescent cells:
- Telomere shortening
- DNA damage
- Oncogenic mutations
- Oxidative stress
- Mitochondrial dysfunction due to metabolic changes
Senescent cells also have a pro-inflammatory phenotype. This can change the structure and function of the other cells and tissues around it.
They have a few evolutionary benefits. For instance, they can act as the body’s natural anti-cancer mechanism.
Over time though, the accumulation of senescent cells may lead to premature aging. It also contributes to the loss of tissue function and age-related diseases, such as osteoarthritis.
What Is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. It is a chronic disease that commonly affects adults over 65 years old.
Younger adults who experience joint injury or trauma can also develop post-traumatic osteoarthritis. In both types of osteoarthritis, individuals may experience the following symptoms:
- Joint pain and stiffness
- Mechanical failure
- Loss of flexibility
In healthy joints, cartilage lines the surface of the joints to provide a low friction surface. This allows for painless joint movements.
The synovial membrane is a structure that covers the joint. It produces synovial fluid which lubricates the joint and provides it with nutrients.
The cartilage and synovial membrane work together to maintain joint function. Doctors often describe osteoarthritis as the result of joint cartilage wear and tear.
In reality, it can be more complicated than that. Dysfunction in some of its components can also contribute to the disease.
What Is the Link Between Senescent Cells and Osteoarthritis?
Cellular senescence is a mechanism that may promote age-associated osteoarthritis and post-traumatic arthritis. For some time, scientists have observed senescent cells in arthritic joints.
The research on cellular senescence and arthritis has barely scratched the surface. But here are some of their recent findings:
- Eliminating senescent cells and their proinflammatory phenotypes led to tissue recovery in young mice.
- Clearing senescent cells of older mice prevent disease progression and help restore tissue structure. In fact, all age-related cartilage loss was reduced in female mice.
- Joint pain increases when there’s an increase in proinflammatory phenotype factors.
- There’s pain relief as soon as senescent cells are eliminated—even before the tissue has time to repair.
- Over time, the accumulation of senescent cells may influence the immune system and its ability to begin the tissue repair process.
Remember, even if senescent cells don’t replicate themselves, they can negatively impact their neighboring cells or tissues. So the release of proinflammatory phenotype can also cause osteoarthritis inflammation.
How Does This Impact the Treatment of Osteoarthritis?
The treatment for osteoarthritis usually involves:
- Oral pain medication. Doctors can prescribe acetaminophen, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), or duloxetine.
- Physical therapy. A therapist helps strengthen muscles and increase flexibility to reduce pain and joint stiffness.
- Occupational therapy. A therapist shows patients how to complete everyday tasks without straining painful joints.
- Surgical procedures. Doctors can perform arthroplasty or joint replacement surgery (ex: hip replacement). They can also perform surgeries that help realign bones.
- Other procedures. Doctors can administer cortisone or lubrication injections.
Most of the current treatment options for osteoarthritis involve symptom management. But, this new research suggests that it may be possible to go beyond symptom management.
It may be possible to modify the disease itself. Eliminating senescent cells in the joints and the surrounding tissues helps to alleviate symptoms.
It may even stop the progression of the disease and repair the damaged tissue. It’s kind of like turning back the hands of time!
How Can You Eliminate Senescent Cells?
Another group of researchers published a similar study in 2018. It was published in Mechanism of Aging and Development.
The findings offer a new strategy in using cellular senescence to treat osteoarthritis—sirtuin 6. Sirtuin 6 is a protein that the body needs to repair DNA damage in cells.
It helps regulate cellular health and, in turn, aging and age-related diseases. Giving sirtuin 6 to older adults may delay senescence and increase cartilage regeneration.
The research on senescent cells is still in its infancy, but it’s already showing a lot of potential. It doesn’t only give us a more holistic understanding of aging, but it may also lead to new treatment options for age-related chronic diseases.
This new research direction may benefit people with osteoarthritis. So if you have osteoarthritis, you may want to talk to a LIV Health integrative health specialist to learn about your options.
What excites you the most about these new research findings? Tell us about it in the comments section.
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