Hyper-physiologic mechanical cues, as an osteoarthritis disease-relevant environmental perturbation, cause a critical shift in set points of methylation at transcriptionally active CpG sites in neo-cartilage organoids

Niek G.C. Bloks, Amanda Dicks, Zainab Harissa, Rob G.H.H. Nelissen, Ghazaleh Hajmousa, Yolande F.M. Ramos, Rodrigo Coutinho de Almeida, Farshid Guilak, Ingrid Meulenbelt

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Background: Osteoarthritis (OA) is a complex, age-related multifactorial degenerative disease of diarthrodial joints marked by impaired mobility, joint stiffness, pain, and a significant decrease in quality of life. Among other risk factors, such as genetics and age, hyper-physiological mechanical cues are known to play a critical role in the onset and progression of the disease (Guilak in Best Pract Res Clin Rheumatol 25:815–823, 2011). It has been shown that post-mitotic cells, such as articular chondrocytes, heavily rely on methylation at CpG sites to adapt to environmental cues and maintain phenotypic plasticity. However, these long-lasting adaptations may eventually have a negative impact on cellular performance. We hypothesize that hyper-physiologic mechanical loading leads to the accumulation of altered epigenetic markers in articular chondrocytes, resulting in a loss of the tightly regulated balance of gene expression that leads to a dysregulated state characteristic of the OA disease state. Results: We showed that hyper-physiological loading evokes consistent changes in CpGs associated with expression changes (ML-tCpGs) in ITGA5, CAV1, and CD44, among other genes, which together act in pathways such as anatomical structure morphogenesis (GO:0009653) and response to wound healing (GO:0042060). Moreover, by comparing the ML-tCpGs and their associated pathways to tCpGs in OA pathophysiology (OA-tCpGs), we observed a modest but particular interconnected overlap with notable genes such as CD44 and ITGA5. These genes could indeed represent lasting detrimental changes to the phenotypic state of chondrocytes due to mechanical perturbations that occurred earlier in life. The latter is further suggested by the association between methylation levels of ML-tCpGs mapped to CD44 and OA severity. Conclusion: Our findings confirm that hyper-physiological mechanical cues evoke changes to the methylome-wide landscape of chondrocytes, concomitant with detrimental changes in positional gene expression levels (ML-tCpGs). Since CAV1, ITGA5, and CD44 are subject to such changes and are central and overlapping with OA-tCpGs of primary chondrocytes, we propose that accumulation of hyper-physiological mechanical cues can evoke long-lasting, detrimental changes in set points of gene expression that influence the phenotypic healthy state of chondrocytes. Future studies are necessary to confirm this hypothesis.

Original languageEnglish
Article number64
JournalClinical Epigenetics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2024


  • Chondrocytes
  • DNA methylation
  • Environmental stressors
  • Mechanical loading
  • Osteoarthritis

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