Open Access Research article

Synoviocytes protect cartilage from the effects of injury in vitro

Christina M Lee1, John D Kisiday1, C Wayne McIlwraith1, Alan J Grodzinsky2 and David D Frisbie1*

Author Affiliations

1 Orthopaedic Research Center, Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Colorado State University, 300 West Drake Rd., Fort Collins, Colorado CO 80523, USA

2 Biomedical Engineering, Department of Biological Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA, 02139, USA

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2013, 14:54  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-14-54

Published: 1 February 2013



It is well documented that osteoarthritis (OA) can develop following traumatic joint injury and is the leading cause of lameness and subsequent wastage of equine athletes. Although much research of injury induced OA has focused on cartilage, OA is a disease that affects the whole joint organ.


In this study, we investigated the impact of synovial cells on the progression of an OA phenotype in injured articular cartilage. Injured and control cartilage were cultured in the presence of synoviocytes extracted from normal equine synovium. Synoviocytes and cartilage were evaluated for catabolic and anabolic gene expression. The cartilage was also evaluated histologically for loss of extracellular matrix molecules, chondrocyte cell death and chondrocyte cluster formation.


The results indicate synoviocytes exert both positive and negative effects on injured cartilage, but ultimately protect injured cartilage from progressing toward an OA phenotype. Synoviocytes cultured in the presence of injured cartilage had significantly reduced expression of aggrecanase 1 and 2 (ADAMTS4 and 5), but also had increased expression of matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) -1 and reduced expression of tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases 1 (TIMP-1). Injured cartilage cultured with synoviocytes had increased expression of both collagen type 2 and aggrecanase 2. Histologic examination of cartilage indicated that there was a protective effect of synoviocytes on injured cartilage by reducing the incidence of both focal cell loss and chondrocyte cluster formation, two major hallmarks of OA.


These results support the importance of evaluating more than one synovial joint tissue when investigating injury induced OA.

Cartilage; Synovial cell; Injury