Open Access Open Badges Research article

4-Hydroxynonenal induces apoptosis in human osteoarthritic chondrocytes: the protective role of glutathione-S-transferase

France Vaillancourt, Hassan Fahmi, Qin Shi, Patrick Lavigne, Pierre Ranger, Julio C Fernandes and Mohamed Benderdour*

Author Affiliations

Orthopaedic Research Laboratory, Hôpital du Sacré-Cæur de Montréal, Department of Surgery, University of Montreal, 5400 Gouin Blvd. West, Montreal, QC, H4J 1C5, Canada

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2008, 10:R107  doi:10.1186/ar2503

Published: 9 September 2008



4-Hydroxynonenal (HNE) is one of the most abundant and reactive aldehydes of lipid peroxidation products and exerts various effects on intracellular and extracellular signalling cascades. We have previously shown that HNE at low concentrations could be considered as an important mediator of catabolic and inflammatory processes in osteoarthritis (OA). In the present study, we focused on characterizing the signalling cascade induced by high HNE concentration involved in cell death in human OA chondrocytes.


Markers of apoptosis were quantified with commercial kits. Protein levels were evaluated by Western blotting. Glutathione (GSH) and ATP levels were measured with commercial kits. Glucose uptake was assessed by 2-deoxy-D-[3H]-glucose. The role of GSH-S-transferase A4-4 (GSTA4-4) in controlling HNE-induced chondrocyte apoptosis was investigated by chondrocyte transfection with small interfering RNA (siRNA) or with the expression vector of GSTA4-4.


Our data showed that HNE at concentrations of up to 10 μM did not alter cell viability but was cytotoxic at concentrations of greater than or equal to 20 μM. HNE-induced chondrocyte death exhibited several classical hallmarks of apoptosis, including caspase activation, cytochrome c and apoptosis-induced factor release from mitochondria, poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase cleavage, Bcl-2 downregulation, Bax upregulation, and DNA fragmentation. Our study of signalling pathways revealed that HNE suppressed pro-survival Akt kinase activity but, in contrast, induced Fas/CD95 and p53 expression in chondrocytes. All of these effects were inhibited by an antioxidant, N-acetyl-cysteine. Analysis of cellular energy and redox status showed that HNE induced ATP, NADPH, and GSH depletion and inhibited glucose uptake and citric acid cycle activity. GSTA4-4 ablation by the siRNA method augmented HNE cytotoxicity, but, conversely, its overexpression efficiently protected chondrocytes from HNE-induced cell death.


Our study provides novel insights into the potential mechanisms of cell death in OA cartilage and suggests the potential role of HNE in OA pathophysiology. GSTA4-4 expression is critically important for cellular defence against oxidative stress-induced cell death in OA cartilage, possibly by HNE elimination.