The need for better ways to assess activity of osteoarthritis (OA) from its onset has led researchers to investigate possible biomarkers, particularly those related to cartilage and bone turnover. Among likely candidates for a biomarker for OA is hyaluronic acid (HA), which is a component of connective tissue that is widely distributed throughout the body and plays an important role in joint function.

A recent study led by Drs. Alan L. Elliott of the Thurston Arthritis Research Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, strongly supports the relationship between increased production of HA and increased risk for OA, specifically of the knees and hips, among ethnically diverse men and women.

The study drew its subjects from a large, local population of participants in the Johnston County Osteoarthritis Project. The study group comprised 753 OA patients, whose average age was just shy of 62 years and the mean body mass index was on the heavy side, just over 30.

The research team analysed the patient's blood for its concentration of HA. The most compelling differences in HA levels, however, were between the 298 subjects without any radiographic evidence of OA and the 455 OA participants - especially those with two or more joints affected. As the presence and amount of OA involvement in affected knees and hips increased, so did the HA levels. When adjusted for ethnicity, sex, age, and BMI, the associations between elevated HA levels and all definitions of OA status remained statistically significant.

Also significantly, researchers found no independent correlations between elevated levels of HA and other adverse health conditions reported by the subjects, except one: gout, which, like OA, is marked by joint inflammation and damage. "The results of this study suggest that serum HA measurements are useful for assessing overall OA load," Dr Elliott notes.; Source: Thurston Arthritis Research Center