A newly published interdisciplinary study out of Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) says heightened levels of lubricin, the protein that lubricates joints and is present in all mammals, might serve as a precursor of joint disease.
The findings, researchers say, somewhat conflict with conventional assumptions about the lubricant.
“Lubricin is crucial for normal joint function and the lubrication of cartilage,” says the paper’s senior author, Heidi Reesink, VMD, Ph.D., DACVS-LA. “We know if a person or animal doesn’t make that protein, they will develop devastating joint disease affecting all the major weight-bearing joints.”
“The dogma in this field has been that lubricin decreases in joint disease,” she adds.
In three canine patients, researchers observed dramatic increase in the level of lubricin in the time between their initial injuries, but before any signs of arthritis appeared in their X-rays.
“This indicates the presence of increased lubricin might actually be a biomarker for predicting future osteoarthritis,” Dr. Reesink says. “We also saw increased lubricin in dogs months to years after they injured their ACLs [anterior cruciate ligaments], suggesting lubricin might be an indicator of ongoing joint instability.”
The findings, Reesink says, could consequently serve as a signal for veterinarians to intervene or try a different treatment approach when increased levels of the lubricant are observed.
“We can help both animals and humans by potentially coming up with better diagnostics, by more fully understanding how these molecules work and designing therapies beneficial to both, by taking advantage of these naturally occurring cases and improving orthopedic care,” she says.
The research team says it plans to complete a follow-up longitudinal study in dogs.
The findings have been published in Scientific Reports. To access it, click here.