Background: Silymarin (SMN), a polyphenolic flavonoid, is involved in multiple bioactive functions including anti-inflammation. Pretreatment with SMN demonstrated chondroprotection against tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α) stimulation in a chondrocyte cell line. However, pre- and posttreatment with phytochemicals have varying effects on osteoarthritis (OA) chondrocytes, and the therapeutic potential of SMN after catabolic cytokine stimulation is not fully elucidated. Methods: The cytotoxicity of SMN (12.5, 25, 50 and 100 μM) was evaluated in human primary chondrocytes. The chondrocytes were supplemented with SMN (25 and 50 μM) after interleukin-1beta (IL-1β) stimulation. The mRNA expression and protein production of catabolic/anabolic cytokines as well as extracellular matrix (ECM) components were evaluated. Results: High-dose SMN (100 μM) impaired the mitochondrial activity in chondrocytes, and 50 μM SMN further caused cell death in IL-1β-stimulated cells. The addition of 25 μM SMN ameliorated cell senescence; downregulated the catabolic genes of inducible nitric oxide synthase, IL-1β, TNF-α, matrix metalloproteinase-3 (MMP-3), MMP-9 and MMP-13; upregulated the anabolic genes of tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase-1 (TIMP-1) and collagen type II alpha 1; and restored the expression of chondrogenic phenotype genes SOX9 and sirtuin-1 (Sirt1). In addition, the production of IL-1β, MMP-3 and MMP-9 decreased with an increase in TIMP-1 secretion. However, the mRNA levels of IL-6, IL-8 and IL-10 and protein production remained high. The addition of nicotinamide, a Sirt1 inhibitor, downregulated SOX9 and attenuated the therapeutic effects of SMN on IL-1β-stimulated chondrocytes. Conclusion: SMN regulates the chondrocyte phenotype through Sirt1 and SOX9 to improve ECM homeostasis and may serve as a complementary therapy for early-stage knee OA.
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