Comet assay for quantification of the increased DNA damage burden in primary human chondrocytes with aging and osteoarthritis

Michaela E. Copp, Susan Chubinskaya, Daniel N. Bracey, Jacqueline Shine, Garrett Sessions, Richard F. Loeser, Brian O. Diekman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is known that chondrocytes from joints with osteoarthritis (OA) exhibit high levels of DNA damage, but the degree to which chondrocytes accumulate DNA damage during “normal aging” has not been established. The goal of this study was to quantify the DNA damage present in chondrocytes obtained from cadaveric donors of a wide age range, and to compare the extent of this damage to OA chondrocytes. The alkaline comet assay was used to measure the DNA damage in normal cartilage from the ankle (talus) and the knee (femur) of cadaveric donors, as well as in OA chondrocytes obtained at the time of total knee replacement. Chondrocytes from younger donors (<45 years) had less DNA damage than older donors (>70 years) as assessed by the percentage of DNA in the comet “tail”. In donors between 50 and 60 years old, there was increased DNA damage in chondrocytes from OA cartilage as compared to cadaveric. Talar chondrocytes from 23 donors between the ages of 34 and 78 revealed a linear increase in DNA damage with age (R2 = 0.865, p < 0.0001). A “two-tailed” comet assay was used to demonstrate that most of the accumulated damage is in the form of strand breaks as opposed to alkali-labile base damage. Chondrocytes from young donors required 10 Gy irradiation to recapitulate the DNA damage present in chondrocytes from older donors. Given the potential for DNA damage to contribute to chondrocyte dysfunction and senescence, this study supports the investigation of mechanisms by which hypo-replicative cell types accumulate high levels of damage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAging cell
StateAccepted/In press - 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • arthritis
  • cartilage
  • single-cell gel electrophoresis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aging
  • Cell Biology


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