Osteoarthritis (OA) results in progressive degeneration of the articular cartilage. OA is caused by the increase in the production of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), pro-inflammatory cytokines and catabolic mediators which destroy the cartilage matrix . Usually, there is a balance in the anabolic and catabolic activities in the articular chondrocytes which are involved in the remodelling of the extracellular matrix (ECM). Disturbance in the normal balance triggers the pathological changes in OA and this causes an increase in inflammatory factors and cytokine gene expressions . Pro-inflammatory cytokines such as Interleukin-1β, 6 and 8 (IL-1β, IL-6 and IL-8) initiate the development of OA by increasing the number of inflammatory cells in the synovial tissue thereby increasing the amount of MMPs and inhibiting the production of proteoglycans [3, 4]. Subsequently, the release of the catabolic mediators such as Prostaglandins E2 (PGE2), cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) and inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS), contribute to the catabolic consequences of OA .
Normal articular cartilage is composed of highly organized proteoglycan and collagen network. Aggrecan along with hyaluronic acid creates huge proteoglycan aggregates, and forms negatively charged glycosaminoglycan (GAG). The structure rigidity of cartilage is conferred mainly by type II collagen. Type II collagen is destroyed in cartilage injury, and it is replaced by type I collagen which possess inferior functions . The degradation of both aggrecan and type II collagen contribute to the progression of OA [7, 8].
One of the recent symptomatic treatments employed for OA involves the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to block cyclooxygenase (COX) . NSAIDs cause an increase in damage to the cartilage. On the other hand, usage of COX-2 specific class of NSAIDs is known to cause cardiovascular and heart diseases . Thus, there is an urgent need to identify and develop new approaches to treat or inhibit the progression of OA.
Edible Bird’s Nest (EBN) was a significant item in the cuisine and pharmacy of the Emperors of China during the 16th century . EBN has been known for its beneficial effect in promoting health in the Chinese for thousands of years . In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), EBN is believed to promote the wellbeing of multiple organs and body systems [13, 14]. Previous study showed an avian epidermal growth factor (EGF) extracted from EBN improved the immune function and cell proliferation . Hiroki Nakagawa et al., 2007  found that EBN is rich in proteoglycans containing non-sulfated chondroitin glycosaminoglycan (GAGs) which shares similar properties like the matrix in the cartilage. The proteoglycans isolated contained 83% carbohydrates, of which 79% were GalNAc and GlcUA (D-glucuronic acid) in an equimolar ratio. Recently, hot-water extraction of EBN showed the ability to promote cornea cells proliferation and cornea wound healing . To date, all the previous studies demonstrated the beneficial effect of EBN extract prepared by water extraction. Hence, it is hypothesized the water extraction of EBN may prevent human articular chondrocytes (HACs) lose its functions.
Since EBN is produced from swiftlet’s saliva, extraction method using organic solvent such as methanol, chloroform and DMSO, which target the non-water soluble active compound, may not be practical. The EBN extract prepared by water extraction mainly contains polysaccharide and glycoprotein, which can easily precipitate through freezing and thawing processes. Thus, we prepared the EBN water extract in a single batch and stored at 4°C in order to maintain the uniformity and quality of the extract for the experiment. The present study aimed to measure the effects of EBN extract on the anabolic and catabolic activities of HACs.