Women appear to have a thinner, reduced volume of cartilage in the knee than men

Sex differences in the prevalence, incidence, and severity of osteoarthritis, OA, have long been known. Some differences in the evaluation of this issue across studies may be related to differences in study design, sampling, study size, study populations, targeted joint sites, and definitions of OA.

This report highlights recent studies of sex differences in individual joint components imaged by magnetic resonance imaging and in systemic biomarkers of joint metabolism.

Particularly important are those studies that examine this issue in young unaffected adults and children before the development of disease. Despite some variation across studies, women appear for the most part to have a thinner and more reduced volume of cartilage in the knee than men, and this may occur from early childhood. It is not clear whether women have a more accelerated rate of cartilage volume loss than men. Few data exist on sex differences in systemic biomarkers of joint metabolism.

In these studies, it is critically important to characterize the total body burden of OA and the presence of comorbid conditions likely to influence a given biomarker. Lastly, future research should dovetail studies of sex differences in imaging and biochemical biomarkers with genetics to maximize insight into the mechanisms behind observed sex differences.

Sex differences in magnetic resonance imaging-based biomarkers and in those of joint metabolism, Mehrnaz Maleki-Fischbach and Joanne M Jordan, Thurston Arthritis Research Center, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill NC. Arthritis Research & Therapy 2010, 12:212 doi:10.1186/ar3091

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