Expression of p16INK 4a is a biomarker of chondrocyte aging but does not cause osteoarthritis

Brian O. Diekman, Garrett A. Sessions, John A. Collins, Anne K. Knecht, Susan L. Strum, Natalia K. Mitin, Cathy S. Carlson, Richard F. Loeser, Norman E. Sharpless

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26 Scopus citations


Cellular senescence drives a functional decline of numerous tissues with aging by limiting regenerative proliferation and/or by producing pro-inflammatory molecules known as the senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP). The senescence biomarker p16INK 4a is a potent inhibitor of the cell cycle but is not essential for SASP production. Thus, it is unclear whether p16INK 4a identifies senescence in hyporeplicative cells such as articular chondrocytes and whether p16INK 4a contributes to pathologic characteristics of cartilage aging. To address these questions, we examined the role of p16INK 4a in murine and human models of chondrocyte aging. We observed that p16INK 4a mRNA expression was significantly upregulated with chronological aging in murine cartilage (~50-fold from 4 to 18 months of age) and in primary human chondrocytes from 57 cadaveric donors (r2=.27, p <.0001). Human chondrocytes exhibited substantial replicative potential in vitro that depended on the activity of cyclin-dependent kinases 4 or 6 (CDK4/6), and proliferation was reduced in cells from older donors with increased p16INK 4a expression. Moreover, increased chondrocyte p16INK 4a expression correlated with several SASP transcripts. Despite the relationship between p16INK 4a expression and these features of senescence, somatic inactivation of p16INK 4a in chondrocytes of adult mice did not mitigate SASP expression and did not alter the rate of osteoarthritis (OA) with physiological aging or after destabilization of the medial meniscus. These results establish that p16INK 4a expression is a biomarker of dysfunctional chondrocytes, but that the effects of chondrocyte senescence on OA are more likely driven by production of SASP molecules than by loss of chondrocyte replicative function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere12771
JournalAging cell
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank the University of North Carolina Animal Histopathology and Flow Cytometry cores. The UNC Flow Cytometry Core Facility is supported in part by P30 CA016086 Cancer Center Core Support Grant to the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. The authors thank Kathryn Kelley for performing the DMM surgeries, Dr. Susan Chubinskaya at Rush University Medical Center for providing human ankle tissue, and Lindsey Harper for preparation of histological sections of murine tissue. This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health F32 AG050399 (BOD), R01 AG024379 (NES), R01 AG044034 (RFL). This research was conducted while Brian Diek-man was an Arthritis and Aging Research Grant recipient from the Arthritis National Research Foundation and the American Federation for Aging Research.


  • Ink4a
  • aging
  • cellular senescence
  • chondrocyte
  • geroscience
  • mouse models
  • osteoarthritis
  • p16

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