Introduction: Glucocorticoids are known to attenuate bone formation in vivo leading to decreased bone volume and increased risk of fractures, whereas effects on the joint tissue are less characterized. However, glucocorticoids appear to have a reducing effect on inflammation and pain in osteoarthritis. This study aimed at characterizing the effect of glucocorticoids on chondrocytes, osteoclasts, and osteoblasts.

Experimental: We used four model systems to investigate how glucocorticoids affect the cells of the joint; two intact tissues (femoral head- and cartilage-explants), and two separate cell cultures of osteoblasts (2T3-pre-osteoblasts) and osteoclasts (CD14(+)-monocytes). The model systems were cultured in the presence of two glucocorticoids; prednisolone or dexamethasone. To induce anabolic and catabolic conditions, cultures were activated by insulin-like growth factor I/bone morphogenetic protein 2 and oncostatin M/tumor necrosis factor-α, respectively. Histology and markers of bone- and cartilage-turnover were used to evaluate effects of glucocorticoid treatment.

Results: Prednisolone treatment decreased collagen type-II degradation in immature cartilage, whereas glucocorticoids did not affect collagen type-II in mature cartilage. Glucocorticoids had an anti-catabolic effect on catabolic-activated cartilage from a bovine stifle joint and murine femoral heads. Glucocorticoids decreased viability of all bone cells, leading to a reduction in osteoclastogenesis and bone resorption; however, bone morphogenetic protein 2-stimulated osteoblasts increased bone formation, as opposed to non-stimulated osteoblasts.

Conclusions: Using highly robust in vitro models of bone and cartilage turnover, we suggest that effects of glucocorticoids highly depend on the activation and differential stage of the cell targeted in the joint. Present data indicated that glucocorticoid treatment may be beneficial for articular cartilage, although detrimental effects on bone should be taken into account.

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