Background: Ischemic osteonecrosis of the femoral head in children is associated with chronic hip synovitis and increased levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6) in the synovial fluid due to unknown mechanisms. The purpose of this study was to investigate hypoxia-inducible factor-1 (HIF-1) activation as a molecular mechanism linking the induction of ischemic osteonecrosis to IL-6 production and the initiation of hip synovitis.
Methods: Ischemic osteonecrosis was surgically induced in the right femoral head of 6 piglets. A histologic score, synovial fluid volume, and IL-6 level were used to assess hip synovitis. IL-6 immunostaining of articular cartilage and synovial tissue was performed as well. To study the role of HIF-1 in IL-6 activation, in vitro experiments using an HIF-1α activator (deferoxamine) and inhibitor (HIF-1 small interfering-RNA [siRNA]) were carried out. Synovial cell responses to hypoxic chondrocyte-conditioned media with and without an IL-6 receptor blocker (tocilizumab) were assessed on the basis of IL-1β and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α) gene expressions and with a synovial cell-proliferation assay.
Results: Induction of ischemic osteonecrosis produced hip synovitis and increased IL-6 levels in the synovial fluid. Immunostaining and protein analysis demonstrated articular chondrocytes as a source of increased IL-6 production. When articular chondrocytes were cultured under hypoxic conditions, significantly increased HIF-1α and IL-6 expressions were observed. Under hypoxic culture conditions, IL-6 gene expression was significantly increased by HIF-1α activation using deferoxamine and inhibited by HIF-1α inhibition using HIF-1 siRNA. Synovial cells exposed to hypoxic chondrocyte-conditioned medium showed significant increases in IL-1β and TNF-α gene expressions and cell proliferation, which were inhibited by the IL-6 receptor blocker tocilizumab.
Conclusions: Induction of ischemic osteonecrosis results in IL-6 production in the articular cartilage through an HIF-1-dependent pathway. IL-6 produced by hypoxic articular chondrocytes stimulates inflammatory cytokine responses in synovial cells, which were significantly decreased by tocilizumab.
Clinical Relevance: This study provides new insight into the inherent relationship between the induction of ischemia and the initiation of hip synovitis following ischemic osteonecrosis and suggests a potential therapeutic target in the treatment of the synovitis.
1Center for Excellence in Hip Disorders, Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, Dallas, Texas
2Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas
3Faculty of Budo and Sport Studies, Tenri University, Tenri, Nara, Japan
4Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of Connecticut Health Center, Farmington, Connecticut
E-mail address for H.K.W. Kim: Harry.Kim@tsrh.org