Although the clinical benefits of dietary supplementation with n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) has been recognised for a number of years, the molecular mechanisms by which particular PUFA affect metabolism of cells within the synovial joint tissues are not understood.

This study set out to investigate how n-3 PUFA and other classes of fatty acids affect both degradative and inflammatory aspects of metabolism of articular cartilage chondrocytes using an in vitro model of cartilage degradation.

Using well-established culture models, cartilage explants from normal bovine and human osteoarthritic cartilage were supplemented with either n-3 or n-6 PUFA, and cultures were subsequently treated with interleukin 1 to initiate catabolic processes that mimic cartilage degradation in arthritis.

Results show that supplementation specifically with n-3 PUFA, but not n-6 PUFA, causes a decrease in both degradative and inflammatory aspects of chondrocyte metabolism, whilst having no effect on the normal tissue homeostasis.

Collectively, our data provide evidence supporting dietary supplementation of n-3 PUFA, which in turn may have a beneficial effect of slowing and reducing inflammation in the pathogenesis of degenerative joint diseases in man.