Aging is a main risk factor for osteoarthritis (OA). FoxO transcription factors protect against cellular and organismal aging, and FoxO expression in cartilage is reduced with aging and in OA. To investigate the role of FoxO in cartilage, Col2Cre-FoxO1, 3, and 4 single knockout (KO) and triple KO mice (Col2Cre-TKO) were analyzed. Articular cartilage in Col2Cre-TKO and Col2Cre-FoxO1 KO mice was thicker than in control mice at 1 or 2 months of age. This was associated with increased proliferation of chondrocytes of Col2Cre-TKO mice in vivo and in vitro. OA-like changes developed in cartilage, synovium, and subchondral bone between 4 and 6 months of age in Col2Cre-TKO and Col2Cre-FoxO1 KO mice. Col2Cre-FoxO3 and FoxO4 KO mice showed no cartilage abnormalities until 18 months of age when Col2Cre-FoxO3 KO mice had more severe OA than control mice. Autophagy and antioxidant defense genes were reduced in Col2Cre-TKO mice. Deletion of FoxO1/3/4 in mature mice using Aggrecan(Acan)-CreERT2 (AcanCreERT-TKO) also led to spontaneous cartilage degradation and increased OA severity in a surgical model or treadmill running. The superficial zone of knee articular cartilage of Col2Cre-TKO and AcanCreERT-TKO mice exhibited reduced cell density and markedly decreased Prg4. In vitro, ectopic FoxO1 expression increased Prg4 and synergized with transforming growth factor-β stimulation. In OA chondrocytes, overexpression of FoxO1 reduced inflammatory mediators and cartilage-degrading enzymes, increased protective genes, and antagonized interleukin-1β effects. Our observations suggest that FoxO play a key role in postnatal cartilage development, maturation, and homeostasis and protect against OA-associated cartilage damage.
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