Manipulation of primary cilia shows promise in osteoarthritis

Posted: 28 October 2015 | Victoria White

Scientists have demonstrated that medical manipulation of the primary cilia disrupts a key biological process called ‘Hedgehog Signalling’…

The cilia are the thin hair-like structures only a few 100th of a millimeter long and labelled red in these images. The nucleus of each cell is labelled blue. The green shows an intracellular structure at the base of each cilium called the basal body. CREDIT: Queen Mary University of London (QMUL)

Scientists have shown that lithium chloride, a common drug used to treat mental health disorders, could offer an effective treatment against osteoarthritis by disrupting the length of the cells’ antennae called primary cilia.

The biogengineers from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) have demonstrated that medical manipulation of the primary cilia, which are tiny hair-like structures protruding from the surface of most human cells, disrupts a key biological process called ‘Hedgehog Signalling’.Being able to control Hedgehog Signalling has previously been shown to reduce the severity of arthritis.

The study shows lithium chloride can increase the size of primary cilia in several cell types. The researchers are the first to use a new state of the art super resolution imaging technique – structural illumination microscopy (SIM) to observe detailed images of how the drug affects the structure of primary cilia. They exposed human and bovine cartilage cells to varying doses of lithium chloride over a 24 hour period and recorded the length of the primary cilia and the activation of Hedgehog Signalling.

Ciliotherapy could transform the treatment of osteoarthritis

“Scientists are beginning to realise that primary cilia, which were once thought to be irrelevant are actually involved in a number of key biological processes,” explains Professor Martin Knight from Queen Mary’s School of Engineering and Materials Science and the Institute of Bioengineering.

“Previous studies from our group show how the length of primary cilia play a role in stem cell differentiation, and this current study provides further insight.”

Professor Knight adds, “Alterations in hedgehog signalling also occur in other conditions so manipulating the structure of primary cilia may have wider therapeutic impact. This is an exciting new area of medicine known as ciliotherapy which could transform the treatment of diseases including osteoarthritis, inflammation and cancer.”

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