More often than not, when an elderly person visits a doctor complaining of joint pain and the radiographic (X-ray) studies indicate no abnormality, it is usually dismissed as strain or some other physiological factor. Osteoarthritis never comes out clearly. However, all this could change with the discovery of a new technique that can help in screening osteoarthritis even before X-ray could reveal any joint abnormality. Recent studies have reported that levels of a naturally occurring protein called Cartilage Oligomeric Matrix Protein (COMP) can indicate development of osteoarthritis.
COMP is a large, pentameric matrix (substance between cells or in which structures are embedded) protein, which is abundantly found in cartilage and in varying amounts in other connective tissues (tissue that connects other tissues and parts).
The function of COMP is not yet clear, but it’s presence in loading bearing tissues and it’s ability to interact with other matrix components suggest that COMP is an important structural element in the extracellular matrix.
The study was conducted among people (all above 45 years) having no evidence of joint abnormality in their X-ray, but few of them complained of joint pain. Their COMP levels were measured and compared. It was found that people having joint pain had increased levels of COMP. These levels were even higher in people having severe joint pain.
Research concluded that patients, who complain of worse knee joint arthritis, will have higher levels of COMP than patients having low grade osteoarthritis. Also, COMP levels will be much higher in individuals with osteoarthritis in both the knee joints.
More researches and studies are being conducted for developing a practical screening test for osteoarthritis to measure COMP levels. The success of these researches will not only benefit doctors in detecting the disease early when X-rays appear normal, but also in improving treatment.