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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Transcriptomic signatures in cartilage ageing

Mandy Jayne Peffers1*, Xuan Liu2 and Peter David Clegg1

Author Affiliations

1 Comparative Musculoskeletal Biology, Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease, University of Liverpool, Leahurst, Chester High Road, Neston, Wirral CH64 7TE, UK

2 Centre for Genomic Research, Institute of Integrative Biology, Biosciences Building, Crown Street, University of Liverpool, Liverpool L69 7ZB, UK

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2013, 15:R98  doi:10.1186/ar4278

Published: 23 August 2013



Age is an important factor in the development of osteoarthritis. Microarray studies provide insight into cartilage aging but do not reveal the full transcriptomic phenotype of chondrocytes such as small noncoding RNAs, pseudogenes, and microRNAs. RNA-Seq is a powerful technique for the interrogation of large numbers of transcripts including nonprotein coding RNAs. The aim of the study was to characterise molecular mechanisms associated with age-related changes in gene signatures.


RNA for gene expression analysis using RNA-Seq and real-time PCR analysis was isolated from macroscopically normal cartilage of the metacarpophalangeal joints of eight horses; four young donors (4 years old) and four old donors (>15 years old). RNA sequence libraries were prepared following ribosomal RNA depletion and sequencing was undertaken using the Illumina HiSeq 2000 platform. Differentially expressed genes were defined using Benjamini-Hochberg false discovery rate correction with a generalised linear model likelihood ratio test (P < 0.05, expression ratios ± 1.4 log2 fold-change). Ingenuity pathway analysis enabled networks, functional analyses and canonical pathways from differentially expressed genes to be determined.


In total, the expression of 396 transcribed elements including mRNAs, small noncoding RNAs, pseudogenes, and a single microRNA was significantly different in old compared with young cartilage (± 1.4 log2 fold-change, P < 0.05). Of these, 93 were at higher levels in the older cartilage and 303 were at lower levels in the older cartilage. There was an over-representation of genes with reduced expression relating to extracellular matrix, degradative proteases, matrix synthetic enzymes, cytokines and growth factors in cartilage derived from older donors compared with young donors. In addition, there was a reduction in Wnt signalling in ageing cartilage.


There was an age-related dysregulation of matrix, anabolic and catabolic cartilage factors. This study has increased our knowledge of transcriptional networks in cartilage ageing by providing a global view of the transcriptome.