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Hormonal modulation of connective tissue homeostasis and sex differences in risk for osteoarthritis of the knee

Barbara D Boyan12*, David A Hart1, Roger M Enoka1, Daniel P Nicolella1, Eileen Resnick1, Karen J Berkley1, Kathleen A Sluka1, C Kent Kwoh45, Laura L Tosi1, Mary I O’Connor13, Richard D Coutts1 and Wendy M Kohrt1

  • * Corresponding author: Barbara D Boyan

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

1 Isis Research Network on Musculoskeletal Health, Society for Women’s Health Research, 1025 Connecticut Avenue, NW Suite 601, Washington, DC, 20036, USA

2 Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, 315 Ferst Drive NW, Atlanta, GA 30332-0363, USA

3 Mayo Clinic, 4500 San Pablo Road, Jacksonville, Florida, USA

4 University of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh VA Healthcare System, Pittsburgh, PA, USA

5 Epidemiology, and Clinical and Translational Science Division of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh Arthritis Institute, Pittsburgh, USA

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Biology of Sex Differences 2013, 4:3  doi:10.1186/2042-6410-4-3

Published: 4 February 2013


Young female athletes experience a higher incidence of ligament injuries than their male counterparts, females experience a higher incidence of joint hypermobility syndrome (a risk factor for osteoarthritis development), and post-menopausal females experience a higher prevalence of osteoarthritis than age-matched males. These observations indicate that fluctuating sex hormone levels in young females and loss of ovarian sex hormone production due to menopause likely contribute to observed sex differences in knee joint function and risk for loss of function. In studies of osteoarthritis, however, there is a general lack of appreciation for the heterogeneity of hormonal control in both women and men. Progress in this field is limited by the relatively few preclinical osteoarthritis models, and that most of the work with established models uses only male animals. To elucidate sex differences in osteoarthritis, it is important to examine sex hormone mechanisms in cells from knee tissues and the sexual dimorphism in the role of inflammation at the cell, tissue, and organ levels. There is a need to determine if the risk for loss of knee function and integrity in females is restricted to only the knee or if sex-specific changes in other tissues play a role. This paper discusses these gaps in knowledge and suggests remedies.

Bone; Estrogen; Ligaments; Osteoarthritis; Sex differences; Sex steroids; Tendon; Testosterone