Differential gene expression analysis reveals pathways important in early post-traumatic osteoarthritis in an equine model

Annette M. McCoy, Ann M. Kemper, Mary K. Boyce, Murray P. Brown, Troy N. Trumble

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Post-traumatic osteoarthritis (PTOA) is a common and significant problem in equine athletes. It is a disease of the entire joint, with the synovium thought to be a key player in disease onset and progression due to its role in inflammation. The development of effective tools for early diagnosis and treatment of PTOA remains an elusive goal. Altered gene expression represents the earliest discernable disease-related change, and can provide valuable information about disease pathogenesis and identify potential therapeutic targets. However, there is limited work examining global gene expression changes in early disease. In this study, we quantified gene expression changes in the synovium of osteoarthritis-affected joints using an equine metacarpophalangeal joint (MCPJ) chip model of early PTOA. Synovial samples were collected arthroscopically from the MCPJ of 11 adult horses before (preOA) and after (OA) surgical induction of osteoarthritis and from sham-operated joints. After sequencing synovial RNA, Salmon was used to quasi-map reads and quantify transcript abundances. Differential expression analysis with the limma-trend method used a fold-change cutoff of log2(1.1). Functional annotation was performed with PANTHER at FDR < 0.05. Pathway and network analyses were performed in Reactome and STRING, respectively.

RESULTS: RNA was sequenced from 28 samples (6 preOA, 11 OA, 11 sham). "Sham" and "preOA" were not different and were grouped. Three hundred ninety-seven genes were upregulated and 365 downregulated in OA synovium compared to unaffected. Gene ontology (GO) terms related to extracellular matrix (ECM) organization, angiogenesis, and cell signaling were overrepresented. There were 17 enriched pathways, involved in ECM turnover, protein metabolism, and growth factor signaling. Network analysis revealed clusters of differentially expressed genes involved in ECM organization, endothelial regulation, and cellular metabolism.

CONCLUSIONS: Enriched pathways and overrepresented GO terms reflected a state of high metabolic activity and tissue turnover in OA-affected tissue, suggesting that the synovium may retain the capacity to support healing and homeostasis in early disease. Limitations of this study include small sample size and capture of one point post-injury. Differentially expressed genes within key pathways may represent potential diagnostic markers or therapeutic targets for PTOA. Mechanistic validation of these findings is an important next step.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number843
JournalBMC Genomics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 30 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by USDA Hatch Funds, grant number ILLU-888-387. The funder had no role in the design of the study, in the collection, analysis, or interpretation of the data, in the writing of the manuscript, or in the decision to publish the results.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, The Author(s).


  • Animal model
  • Degenerative joint disease
  • Metacarpophalangeal joint
  • Osteochondral fragment
  • RNAseq
  • Synovium


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