The burden of metabolic syndrome on osteoarthritic joints

Bruce M Dickson, Anke J Roelofs, Justin J Rochford, Heather M Wilson, Cosimo de Bari* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)
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The prevalence of osteoarthritis (OA) increases with obesity, with up to two thirds of the elderly obese population affected by OA of the knee. The metabolic syndrome (MetS), frequently associated with central obesity and characterised by elevated waist circumference, raised fasting plasma glucose concentration, raised triglycerides, reduced high-density lipoproteins, and/or hypertension, is implicated in the pathogenesis of OA. This narrative review discusses the mechanisms involved in the influence of MetS on OA, with a focus on the effects on macrophages and chondrocytes.

Main text
A skewing of macrophages towards a pro-inflammatory M1 phenotype within synovial and adipose tissues is thought to play a role in OA pathogenesis. The metabolic perturbations typical of MetS are important drivers of pro-inflammatory macrophage polarisation and activity. This is mediated via alterations in the levels and activities of the cellular nutrient sensors 5′ adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK) and mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1), intracellular accumulation of metabolic intermediates such as succinate and citrate, and increases in free fatty acids (FFAs) and hyperglycaemia-induced advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) that bind to receptors on the macrophage surface. Altered levels of adipokines, including leptin and adiponectin, further influence macrophage polarisation. The metabolic alterations in MetS also affect the cartilage through direct effects on chondrocytes by stimulating the production of pro-inflammatory and catabolic factors and possibly by suppressing autophagy and promoting cellular senescence.

The influence of MetS on OA pathogenesis involves a wide range of metabolic alterations that directly affect macrophages and chondrocytes. The relative burden of intra-articular versus systemic adipose tissue in the MetS-associated OA remains to be clarified. Understanding how altered metabolism interacts with joints affected by OA is crucial for the development of further strategies for treating this debilitating condition, such as supplementing existing therapies with metformin and utilising ω-3 fatty acid derivatives to restore imbalances in ω-3 and ω-6 fatty acids.
Original languageEnglish
Article number289
Number of pages10
JournalArthritis Research & Therapy
Early online date16 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - 16 Dec 2019

Bibliographical note

Versus Arthritis (grants 19667, 20050, 20775, 20865, 21156) and the Medical Research Council (grant MR/L020211/1).


  • osteoarthritis
  • metabolic syndrome
  • obesity
  • macrophage
  • chondrocyte


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