The number of osteoarthritis patients is increasing with the rise in the number of elderly people in developed countries. Osteoarthritis, which causes joint pain and deformity leading to loss of activities of daily living, is often treated surgically. Here we show that mechanical stress promotes accumulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in chondrocytes in vivo, resulting in chondrocyte apoptosis and leading to osteoarthritis development in a rat model. We demonstrate that mechanical stress induces ROS accumulation and inflammatory cytokine expression in cultured chondrocytes in vitro and that both are inhibited by treatment with the anti-oxidant N-acetyl cysteine (NAC). In vivo, osteoarthritis development in a rat osteoarthritis model was also significantly inhibited by oral administration of NAC. MMP13 expression and down-regulation of type II collagen in chondrocytes, both of which indicate osteoarthritis, as well as chondrocyte apoptosis in osteoarthritis rats were inhibited by NAC. Interestingly, osteoarthritis development in sham-operated control sides, likely due to disruption of normal weight-bearing activity on the control side, was also significantly inhibited by NAC. We conclude that osteoarthritis development in rats is significantly antagonized by oral NAC administration. Currently, no oral medication is available to prevent osteoarthritis development. Our work suggests that NAC may represent such a reagent and serve as osteoarthritis treatment.
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