Forget painkilling drugs and joint replacement surgery. New research suggests maintaining a predictable schedule of frequent exercise, regular meals, and the periodic warming and cooling of joints can effectively relieve the symptoms of osteoarthritis.
The findings, by scientists at the University of Manchester, may explain why older people — who are less likely to keep regular schedules for exercise and daily meals — are more prone to developing the common joint disorder. They also indicate for first time that cartilage cells have a functioning "body clock" that regulates genes tied to controlling tissue function, which is why sufferers find the symptoms of the disease worse at certain times of the day.
"Osteoarthritis is a complex disease caused by multiple factors, although it's well known that one of the major risk factors is aging. Our findings that the cartilage cells show circadian rhythm and that this rhythm is weakened with age is exciting and may help explain how osteoarthritis develops as we get older," said Ray Boot-Handford, a scientist from the University’s Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Matrix Research who has been studying cartilage and osteoarthritis for more than 20 years.
"Future research will directly examine the link between cartilage clock changes and osteoarthritis and highlight potential new avenues for treating this disease."
The study, published in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism, involved research on cartilage tissue in laboratory mice and from human patients. One of the key findings was that the genes in cartilage linked to osteoarthritis follow a 24-hour biological clock. Maintaining regular daily schedules can help improve their function, the results indicated. What’s more, taking drug treatments for joint diseases might be more effective if taken at certain times of the day, the researchers said.
"This research has been incredible to work on. It is the first to show a functioning clock in mouse and human cartilage cells and identify its genome-wide targets," said researcher Nicole Gossan. "Disruption of these targets during aging could seriously impact joint health and we are the first to establish a link between clock disruption and osteoarthritis."
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