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Discovery of distinct fibroblast subset: what it means for arthritis

​Arthritis affects 1 in 5 Canadians – making it the country’s most prevalent chronic health condition. Without a cure, treatment options generally involve managing the symptoms of the disease.

But what if we could target the root of the problem, instead of the symptoms? Recent research has shown different subsets of fibroblasts, the most common connective tissue cells, are involved in distinct functional activities. Using single-cell transcriptional analysis, researchers were able to distinguish two subtypes of fibroblasts based on the expression of two proteins: FAPα and THY1. The fibroblasts expressing both proteins were located in the synovial sub-lining. When transferred into a joint, these cells caused more severe and persistent inflammatory arthritis. However, the cells that expressed FAPα, but not THY1, were located in the synovial lining layer and selectively mediated bone and cartilage damage.

Principal investigator, Dr. Chris Buckley, explains these “layers” of fibroblasts could contribute towards the pathogenesis of different types of arthritis. These findings have important clinical implications, potentially opening the door for future therapies that specifically target the subtype(s) responsible for a particular disease.

This research was part of the Arthritis Therapy Acceleration Programme, an initiative hoping to assist the acceleration of world-class research to early-phase experimental trials.

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