To heal meniscus injuries, researchers go to the heart of a cell

Using an enzyme inhibitor in meniscus cells, a Penn team is able to soften the cells’ nucleus and promote access to previously impassible tissue.

By softening a cell’s nucleus so that it can squeeze its way through dense connective tissues, a group of researchers believe they’ve demonstrated a new way to help the body efficiently repair injuries. The team of researchers tested this theory by using a medication to inhibit enzymes in the nucleus of knee’s meniscus cells, which allowed the cells to move through environments that were previously impenetrable. This study is published in Science Advances. 

X-ray of human knee joint.

The study focuses on cells in the meniscus, which is a thin layer of dense connective tissue in the human knee. However, the approach could prove effective beyond that specific area.

“In this case, we studied how meniscus cell nuclei can be softened to promote their migration through meniscus tissues. We have also shown similar enhancement of cell migration in other types of connective tissues, such as tendons or the cartilage covering the ends of bones,” says the study’s first author, Su Chin Heo, an assistant professor of research of Orthopaedic Surgery, who works within the McKay Orthopaedic Research Lab.

In the study, the teams saw that isolated meniscus cells that had been treated with the inhibitor drug trichostatin A were able to move through areas that were once thought to be impassible to reach defects in tissue. This is important becomes some of the repair methods used for injuries involve fibrous scaffolding, which can also be dense and impenetrable. These areas, too, could be infiltrated with the repair cells whose nuclei were softened, the study shows.

This story is by Frank Otto. Read more at Penn Medicine News.