The cholinergic system in joint health and osteoarthritis: a narrative-review

M. Lauwers, A. Courties, J. Sellam, C. Wen

Research output: Journal article publicationReview articleAcademic researchpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Osteoarthritis (OA) poses a major health and economic burden worldwide due to an increasing number of patients and the unavailability of disease-modifying drugs. In this review, the latest understanding of the involvement of the cholinergic system in joint homeostasis and OA will be outlined. First of all, the current evidence on the presence of the cholinergic system in the normal and OA joint will be described. Cholinergic innervation as well as the non-neuronal cholinergic system are detected. In a variety of inflammatory diseases, the classic cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway lately received a lot of attention as via this pathway cholinergic agonists can reduce inflammation. The role of this cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway in the context of OA will be discussed. Activation of this pathway improved the progression of the disease. Secondly, chondrocyte hypertrophy plays a pivotal role in osteophyte formation and OA development; the impact of the cholinergic system on hypertrophic chondroblasts and endochondral ossification will be evaluated. Cholinergic stimulation increased chondrocyte proliferation, delayed chondrocyte differentiation and caused early mineralisation. Moreover, acetylcholinesterase and butyrylcholinesterase affect the endochondral ossification via an acetylcholine-independent pathway. Thirdly, subchondral bone is critical for cartilage homeostasis and metabolism; the cholinergic system in subchondral bone homeostasis and disorders will be explored. An increase in osteoblast proliferation and osteoclast apoptosis is observed. Lastly, current therapeutic strategies for OA are limited to symptom relief; here the impact of smoking on disease progression and the potential of acetylcholinesterase inhibitors as candidate disease-modifying drug for OA will be discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)643-653
Number of pages11
JournalOsteoarthritis and Cartilage
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2021


  • Acetylcholine
  • Articular cartilage
  • Endochondral ossification
  • Inflammation
  • Osteoarthritis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rheumatology
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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