The disease, which affects more than five million people in the UK, is caused by the wear and tear of the smooth, hard cartilage tissue that covers the ends of bones allowing them to glide over one another at the joint.
Scientists have long known that cartilage gets its strength from interlocking millimetre-long collagen fibres that work in a similar way to the load-bearing steel rods in reinforced concrete.
But the precise structure of these fibres or ‘fibrils’ has remained a mystery for more than 40 years, so hindering any progress towards the development of potential therapies.
Now, a team from The University of Manchester has used sophisticated electron microscope techniques to uncover the molecular structure of the thinner of the two types of collagen fibrils.
Professor Karl Kadler, who led the research in the Faculty of Life Sciences, said: “The ability of cartilage to withstand cycles of compression and relaxation is directly attributable to the collagen fibrils.
“Osteoarthritis occurs when the fibrils are disrupted or lost – just like concrete without the steel, the cartilage becomes mechanically weak and susceptible to wear and tear.
“Eventually, the cartilage breaks down altogether and sufferers experience severe pain as the two ends of the bones rub against each other.”
The team’s findings – published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – also explain why mutations in cartilage collagen genes cause osteoarthritis.
“Without a detailed understanding of the structure of these fibrils, a treatment that prevents them deteriorating would always prove elusive,” said Professor Kadler.
“This research, while just a beginning, at least establishes some basic scientific facts that could prove useful in future studies on osteoarthritis and related conditions.”
The next stage of the team’s work will be to determine the structure of the thicker fibrils and examine how collagen cells manage to produce these relatively large fibrous structures which are 1,000 times their own size.
Once scientists understand how the fibrils form and develop in healthy cartilage, they can then investigate what happens when things go wrong in diseases like osteoarthritis.
Aeron Haworth | alfa
The balancing act: An enzyme that links endocytosis to membrane recycling
07.12.2016 | National Centre for Biological Sciences
Transforming plant cells from generalists to specialists
07.12.2016 | Duke University
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
07.12.2016 | Health and Medicine
07.12.2016 | Life Sciences
07.12.2016 | Health and Medicine