Secondary joint damage is the process by which a single injury can lead to detrimental changes in adjacent tissue structures, typically through the spread of inflammatory responses. We recently developed an in vitro model of secondary joint damage using a murine rotator cuff explant system, in which injuries to muscle and bone cause massive cell death in otherwise uninjured tendon. The purpose of the present study was to test the ability cytokine‐targeted and broad‐spectrum therapeutics to prevent cell death and tissue degeneration associated with secondary joint damage. We treated injured bone‐tendon‐muscle explants with either interleukin‐1 receptor antagonist, etanercept, or dexamethasone (DEX) for up to 7 days in culture. Only the low‐dose DEX treatment was able to prevent cell death and tissue degeneration. We then identified a critical window between 24 and 72 h following injury for maximal benefit of DEX treatment through timed administration experiments. Finally, we performed two tendon‐only explant studies to identify mechanistic effects on tendon health. Interestingly, DEX did not prevent cell death and degeneration in a model of cytokine‐induced damage, suggesting other targets of DEX activity. Future studies will aim to identify factors in joint inflammation that may be targeted by DEX treatment, as well as to investigate novel delivery strategies. Statement of clinical significance: Overall, this work demonstrates beneficial effects of DEX administration on preventing tenocyte death and extracellular matrix degeneration in an explant model of secondary joint damage, supporting the clinical use of low‐dose glucocorticoids for short‐term treatment of joint inflammation.
Keywords: dexamethasone; inflammation; tendon; explant; cytokines