Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritic disease, and it is a major cause of disability and impaired quality of life in the elderly. OA is a complex disease of the entire joint, including bone and cartilage, thereby presenting alternative approaches for treatment. This review summarizes emerging observations from cell biology to preliminary clinical trials, describing interactions between the bone and cartilage components. We speculate whether a treatment for OA would be possible without targeting the bone compartment?

Peer-reviewed articles found using pre-defined search criteria and published in the PubMed database until June 2007 are summarized. In addition, abstracts from the OsteoArthritis Research Society International (OARSI) conferences in the time period 2000-2007 were included.

Bone and cartilage health seem to be tightly associated. Ample evidence is found for bone changes during progression of OA, including, but not limited to, increased turnover in the subchondral bone, thinning of the trabecular structure, osteophytes, bone marrow lesions and sclerosis of the subchondral plate. In addition, a range of investigations has described secondary positive effects on cartilage health when bone resorption was suppressed, or deterioration of the cartilage when resorption is increased.

An optimal treatment for OA might include targeting both the bone and cartilage compartments. Hence, as several cell systems are to be targeted in a safe manner, limited options seem possible.