Background: Without the availability of disease-modifying drugs, there is an unmet therapeutic need for osteoarthritic patients. During osteoarthritis, the homeostasis of articular chondrocytes is dysregulated and a phenotypical transition called hypertrophy occurs, leading to cartilage degeneration. Targeting this phenotypic transition has emerged as a potential therapeutic strategy. Chondrocyte phenotype maintenance and switch are controlled by an intricate network of intracellular factors, each influenced by a myriad of feedback mechanisms, making it challenging to intuitively predict treatment outcomes, while in silico modeling can help unravel that complexity. In this study, we aim to develop a virtual articular chondrocyte to guide experiments in order to rationalize the identification of potential drug targets via screening of combination therapies through computational modeling and simulations. Results: We developed a signal transduction network model using knowledge-based and data-driven (machine learning) modeling technologies. The in silico high-throughput screening of (pairwise) perturbations operated with that network model highlighted conditions potentially affecting the hypertrophic switch. A selection of promising combinations was further tested in a murine cell line and primary human chondrocytes, which notably highlighted a previously unreported synergistic effect between the protein kinase A and the fibroblast growth factor receptor 1. Conclusions: Here, we provide a virtual articular chondrocyte in the form of a signal transduction interactive knowledge base and of an executable computational model. Our in silico-in vitro strategy opens new routes for developing osteoarthritis targeting therapies by refining the early stages of drug target discovery. Graphical Abstract: [Figure not available: see fulltext.]
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 721432 and the European Research Council Consolidator Grant agreement No 772418, as well as the Fund for Scientific Research Flanders (FWO Vlaanderen) grant G085018N. The contribution of RN and GvO was provided within the framework of the Medical Delta Regmed4D program. The contribution of TW was supported by a grant from the Dutch Arthritis Association (LLP14).
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