Subjects with developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH) often show early-onset osteoarthritis (OA); however, the molecular mechanisms underlying this pathology are not known. We investigated whether cellular changes in chondrocytes from OA cartilage can be detected in chondrocytes from DDH cartilage before histological manifestations of degeneration. We characterized undamaged and damaged articular cartilage from 22 participants having hip replacement surgery with and without DDH (9 DDH-OA, 12 OA-only, one femoral fracture). Tissue immunostaining revealed changes in damaged OA-only cartilage that was also found in undamaged DDH-OA cartilage. Chondrocytes in situ from both groups show: (i) thicker fibers of vimentin intermediate filaments, (ii) clusters of integrin α5β1, (iii) positive MMP13 staining and (iv) a higher percentage of cells expressing the serine protease HtrA1. Further characterization of the extracellular matrix showed strong aggrecan and collagen II immunostaining in undamaged DDH cartilage, with no evidence of augmented cell death by activation of caspase 3. These findings suggest that early events in DDH cartilage originate at the chondrocyte level and that DDH cartilage may provide a novel opportunity to study these early changes for the development of therapeutic targets for OA.
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