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Chromatin accessibility landscape of articular knee cartilage reveals aberrant enhancer regulation in osteoarthritis

By Ye Liu, Jen-Chien Chang, Chung-Chau Hon, Naoshi Fukui, Nobuho Tanaka, Zhenya Zhang, Ming Ta Michael Lee, Aki Minoda

Posted 01 Mar 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/274043 (published DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-33779-z)

Background: Osteoarthritis (OA) is a common joint disorder with increasing impact in an aging society; however, there is no cure or effective treatments so far due to lack of sufficient understanding of its pathogenesis. While genome-wide association studies (GWAS) and DNA methylation profiling identified many non-coding loci associated to OA, the interpretation of them remains challenging. Methods: Here, we employed Assay for Transposase-Accessible Chromatin with high throughput sequencing (ATAC-seq) to map the accessible chromatin landscape in articular knee cartilage of OA patients and to identify the chromatin signatures relevant to OA. Results: We identified 109,215 accessible chromatin regions in cartilage and 71% of these regions were annotated as enhancers. We found these accessible chromatin regions are enriched for OA GWAS single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and OA differentially methylated loci, implying their relevance to OA. By linking these enhancers to their potential target genes, we have identified a list of candidate enhancers that may be relevant to OA. Through integration of ATAC-seq data with RNA-seq data, we identified genes that are altered both at epigenomic and transcriptomic levels. These genes are enriched in pathways regulating ossification and mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) differentiation. Consistently, the differentially accessible regions in OA are enriched for mesenchymal stem cell-specific enhancers and motifs of transcription factor families involved in osteoblast differentiation (e.g. bZIP and ETS). Conclusions: This study marks the first investigation of accessible chromatin landscape on clinically relevant hard tissues and demonstrates how accessible chromatin profiling can provide comprehensive epigenetic information of a disease. Our analyses provide supportive evidence towards the model of endochondral ossification-like cartilage-to-bone conversion in OA knee cartilage, which is consistent with the OA characteristic of thicker subchondral bone. The identified OA-relevant genes and their enhancers may have a translational potential for diagnosis or drug targets.

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