Arthritis is a major public health problem and one of the leading causes of disability worldwide. Genetic and environmental factors contribute to the onset of degenerative joint diseases such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. The heterogeneity of these chronic diseases presents therapeutic challenges and joint replacement surgery remains the only viable strategy to restore joint function in advanced disease. Research led by Dr. Kim Mix aims to elucidate the molecular and cellular events driving cartilage degradation and synovial inflammation in arthritis. The primary goal of this research is to identify novel molecular mechanisms that could be targeted to block inflammation and stop the progression of arthritis. To this end, the lab is investigating an orphan nuclear receptor overexpressed in arthritic tissues, nuclear receptor 4A2 (NR4A2 / Nurr1). This transcription factor regulates the expression of genes mediating inflammation and cartilage degradation in arthritis. Targeting NR4A2 may provide a novel strategy to alleviate symptoms of arthritis and preserve joint function. Dr. Mix engages undergraduate students in all aspects of this research. Research students learn to culture human cells, extract RNA and proteins, and quantify gene expression changes in models of arthritis. Numerous students have conducted honors thesis research in the lab, co-authored research papers and presented at local and national research conferences. Students interested in collaborating in the lab are encouraged to contact Dr. Mix.
Image caption: NR4A2 protein distribution in cartilage from the DMM model of arthritis.