The ADAMTS (a disintegrin and metalloproteinase with thrombospondin motifs) family includes nine members with aggrecan-degrading activity, i.e., ADAMTS1, 4, 5, 8, 9, 15, 16, 18, and 20. However, their systematic expression profile in knee osteoarthritis (OA) synovium and effects of cytokines and growth factors on the expression in OA synovial fibroblasts remain elusive. In this study, expression of all nine aggrecanolytic ADAMTS species was assessed by quantitative real-time PCR in OA and control normal synovial tissues. OA synovial fibroblasts were treated with interleukin-1α (IL-1α), IL-1β, tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β), vascular endothelial growth factor, and heparin-binding epidermal growth factor, and analyzed for the expression of the ADAMTS species. The signaling pathways and inhibition of ADAMTS4 expression by high-molecular-weight hyaluronan, adalimumab, tocilizumab, and signaling molecule inhibitors were studied. ADAMTS1, 4, 5, 9, and 16 were expressed in OA synovium, but only ADAMTS4 expression was significantly higher in OA as compared to normal synovium. IL-1α, TNF-α, and TGF-β markedly increased ADAMTS4 expression, while their effects were minimal for the other ADAMTS species. ADAMTS4 was synergistically upregulated by treatment with IL-1α and TNF-α, IL-1α and TGF-β, or IL-1α, TNF-α and TGF-β. The signaling molecules’ inhibitors demonstrated that IL-1α-induced ADAMTS4 expression is predominantly through TGF-β-associated kinase 1 (TAK1), and the TNF-α-stimulated expression is via TAK1 and nuclear factor-κB (NF-κB). The TGF-β-promoted expression was through the activin receptor-like kinase 5 (ALK5)/Smad2/3, TAK1, and non-TAK1 pathways. Adalimumab blocked TNF-α-stimulated expression. ADAMTS4 expression co-stimulated with IL-1α, TNF-α and TGF-β was abolished by treatment with adalimumab, TAK1 inhibitor, and ALK5/Smad2/3 inhibitor. These data demonstrate marked and synergistic upregulation of ADAMTS4 by IL-1α, TNF-α and TGF-β in OA synovial fibroblasts, and suggest that concurrent therapy with an anti-TNF-α drug and inhibitor(s) may be useful for prevention against aggrecan degradation in OA.
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