Osteoarthritis (OA) of spine (facet joints [FJs]) is one of the major causes of severe low back pain and disability worldwide. The degeneration of facet cartilage is a hallmark of FJ OA. However, endogenous mechanisms that initiate degeneration of facet cartilage are unknown, and there are no disease-modifying therapies to stop FJ OA. In this study, we have identified microRNAs (small noncoding RNAs) as mediators of FJ cartilage degeneration. We first established a cohort of patients with varying degrees of facet cartilage degeneration (control group: normal or mild facet cartilage degeneration; FJ OA group: moderate to severe facet cartilage degeneration) and then screened 2,100 miRNAs and identified 2 miRNAs (miR-181a-5p and miR-4454) that were significantly elevated in FJ OA cartilage compared with control facet cartilage. We further explored their role, function, and signaling mechanisms using computational, in vitro functional, and in vivo studies. We specifically indicate that miR-181a-5p and miR-4454 are involved in promoting inflammatory, catabolic, and cell death activity in FJ chondrocytes. This is the first report to our knowledge that identifies miR-181a-5p and miR-4454 as mediators of cartilage degeneration in FJs and potential therapeutic targets for stopping cartilage degeneration.


Akihiro Nakamura, Y. Raja Rampersaud, Anirudh Sharma, Stephen J. Lewis, Brian Wu, Poulami Datta, Kala Sundararajan, Helal Endisha, Evgeny Rossomacha, Jason S. Rockel, Igor Jurisica, Mohit Kapoor


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