A naturally occurring molecule could have important consequences for treating osteoarthritis.
Discovered by UK scientists, the molecule protects cells in the joints from being destroyed.
The discovery could lead to the development of new medicines to prevent joint degradation, which affects millions of people in the UK each year.
Specialised cells called chondrocytes are responsible for producing and maintaining healthy cartilage but in osteoarthritis the number of active cells is reduced.
Professor Paul Townsend, joint lead researcher from the University of Westminster said: “In osteoarthritis many different programmed cell-death chemicals are produced which cause chrondrocytes to die.
“Our research shows that the naturally occurring molecule, Urocortin, produced by the body is essential for these chondrocyte cells to survive.”
The researchers found that removing Urocortin caused large numbers of the chondrocyte cells to die. However adding it protected chondrocyte cells from programmed cell-death induced by chemicals present in osteoarthritic cartilage.
Osteoarthritis is caused by the destruction and loss of cartilage, and is on the rise as people live longer.
The research was published in the journal Cell Death and Disease.