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Open Access Open Badges Research article

C/EBP homologous protein drives pro-catabolic responses in chondrocytes

Matt Husa1, Freyr Petursson2, Martin Lotz3, Robert Terkeltaub45* and Ru Liu-Bryan4

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medicine, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, USA

2 St Louis University School of Medicine, St Louis, MO, USA

3 Department of Molecular and Experimental Medicine, The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA, USA

4 Department of Medicine, VA Medical Center, University of California San Diego, San Diego, CA, USA

5 Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, University of California San Diego, 111K, 3350 La Jolla Village Drive, San Diego, CA 92161, USA

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2013, 15:R218  doi:10.1186/ar4415

Published: 19 December 2013



Excess C/EBP homologous protein (CHOP) expression is one feature of the unfolded protein response (UPR) to endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress. Here, we focused on CHOP expression and function in chondrocytes.


We studied human knee osteoarthritis (OA) cartilage, bovine chondrocytes cultured in alginate and subjected to sub-lethal biomechanical injury, and knee chondrocytes of human autopsy donors. We performed siRNA knockdown and transfection.


UPR activation was increased in human knee OA cartilage in situ, and in biomechanically injured cultured chondrocytes in vitro. In normal human chondrocytes, CHOP “gain of function” sensitized chondrocytes to IL-1β induced nitric oxide (NO) and matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-3 release without inducing these responses by itself. Excess CHOP expression, by itself, induced superoxide production and apoptosis. Conversely, siRNA knockdown of CHOP and the UPR-specific mediator X-box binding protein (XBP1) inhibited NO release by >80% (P <0.0005) in response to IL-1β, and blunted MMP-3 release, whereas there were only minimal effects of the UPR mediator GRP78 on these responses. The anti-inflammatory metabolic “super-regulator” AMP kinase (AMPK) is known to limit UPR activation in vascular muscle cells. Here, CHOP supported the capacity of IL-1β to suppress AMPK activity in chondrocytes. We also observed that inhibition of AMPK activity promoted an increase in chondrocyte CHOP expression. Conversely, pharmacologic activation of AMPK by 5-Aminoimidazole-4-carboxamide ribonucleotide (AICAR) blunted chondrocyte CHOP expression in response to biomechanical injury.


Biomechanical injury and IL-1 signaling stimulate UPR activation in chondrocytes. CHOP mediates chondrocyte catabolic and apoptotic responses to IL-1β, and does so partly by inhibiting AMPK activity. Conversely, development of excess CHOP activity is limited by AMPK activity in chondrocytes. Our findings suggest a mechanism for potential chondroprotection by AICAR and other AMPK activators. The work is of translational relevance for OA, since several drugs that activate AMPK are already in the clinic for arthritis (for example, allosteric AMPK activators sodium salicylate and high dose aspirin, and methotrexate, which activates AMPK by generating AICAR).