PLoS One. 2022 Oct 25;17(10):e0276626. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0276626. eCollection 2022.
Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are debilitating conditions, affecting millions of people. Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis degrade the articular cartilage (AC) at the ends of long bones, resulting in weakened tissue prone to further damage. This degradation impairs the cartilage’s mechanical properties leading to areas of thinned cartilage and exposed bone which compromises the integrity of the joint. No preventative measures exist for joint destruction. Discovering a way to slow the degradation of AC or prevent it would slow the painful progression of the disease, allowing millions to live pain-free. Recently, that the articular injection of the polyphenol epigallocatechin-gallate (EGCG) slows AC damage in an arthritis rat model. It was suggested that EGCG crosslinks AC and makes it resistant to degradation. However, direct evidence that intraarticular injection of EGCG crosslinks cartilage collagen and changes its compressive properties are not known. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of intraarticular injection of EGCG induced biomechanical properties of AC. We hypothesize that in vivo exposure EGCG will bind and crosslink to AC collagen and alter its biomechanical properties. We developed a technique of nano-indentation to investigate articular cartilage properties by measuring cartilage compressive properties and quantifying differences due to EGCG exposure. In this study, the rat knee joint was subjected to a series of intraarticular injections of EGCG and contralateral knee joint was injected with saline. After the injections animals were sacrificed, and the knees were removed and tested in an anatomically relevant model of nanoindentation. All mechanical data was normalized to the measurements in the contralateral knee to better compare data between the animals. The data demonstrated significant increases for reduced elastic modulus (57.5%), hardness (83.2%), and stiffness (17.6%) in cartilage treated with injections of EGCG normalized to those treated with just saline solution when compared to baseline subjects without injections, with a significance level of alpha = 0.05. This data provides evidence that EGCG treated cartilage yields a strengthened cartilage matrix as compared to AC from the saline injected knees. These findings are significant because the increase in cartilage biomechanics will translate into resistance to degradation in arthritis. Furthermore, the data suggest for the first time that it is possible to strengthen the articular cartilage by intraarticular injections of polyphenols. Although this data is preliminary, it suggests that clinical applications of EGCG treated cartilage could yield strengthened tissue with the potential to resist or compensate for matrix degradation caused by arthritis.