OBJECTIVE: To test the hypothesis that high concentrations of extracellular inorganic pyrophosphate (PPi), which associate with increased cell synthesis and turnover in cartilage, may act as a marker for structural outcome in knee osteoarthritis (OA). METHOD: One hundred and thirty five consecutive patients referred to hospital with knee OA (59 men, 76 women; mean age 71 years, range 41-88) were followed prospectively for a median of 2.5 years (interquartile range 1.75-3.0). Synovial fluid (SF) aspirated at presentation (202 OA knees: 68 bilateral, 66 unilateral) was assessed for PPi content by radiometric assay. Knee radiographs at presentation and at final review were assessed for change in global (Kellgren) and individual features (narrowing, osteophyte, sclerosis, cyst, attrition) of OA. RESULTS: The median SF PPi level was 10.5 mumol (range 0.07-72.4). At baseline, high PPi was significantly associated with presence of calcium pyrophosphate crystals, chondrocalcinosis, and bone attrition. Radiographic change was observed in 164 knees. High PPi levels were negatively associated with change in Kellgren and Lawrence grade, further narrowing, and increase in osteophyte, but positively associated with development of attrition. In the 68 patients from whom bilateral data were obtained, there was correlation between right and left knees for PPi levels, all baseline radiographic scores, and changes in radiographic features. Multiple logistic regression analysis for PPi as a continuous variable (age, gender, and patient number included in model) showed a negative correlation with change in global Kellgren and Lawrence grade (odds ratio (OR) 0.97, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.95 to 0.99) and a positive correlation with attrition (OR 1.04, 95% CI 1.02 to 1.07). CONCLUSION: High SF levels of PPi are associated with favourable radiographic outcome in terms of progressive change in Kellgren grade. Such elevated PPi levels, however, may inhibit new bone formation and remodelling in knee OA.
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