Osteoarthritis (OA) is one of the most painful and widespread chronic degenerative joint diseases and is characterized by destructed articular cartilage and inflamed joints. Previously, our findings indicated that circular RNA ciRS-7 (ciRS-7)/microRNA 7 (miR-7) axis is abnormally expressed in OA, and regulates proliferation, inflammatory responses, and apoptosis of interleukin-1β (IL-1β)-stimulated chondrocytes. However, its underlying role in OA remains unknown.

In this study, we first validated cartilage degradation and defection of autophagy in samples of OA patients. IL-1β initially stimulated autophagy of chondrocytes, and ultimately significantly suppressed autophagy. Upregulated ciRS-7/down-regulated miR-7 aggravated IL-1β-induced cartilage degradation, and restrained autophagy in vitro. Gene sequencing and bioinformatics analysis performed on a control group, IL-1β group, and IL-1β+miR-7-mimics group demonstrated that seven of the most significant mRNA candidates were enriched in the interleukin-17 (IL-17) signaling pathway. Increased IL-17A levels were also observed by qRT-PCR and ELISA. In addition, it was revealed that the ciRS-7/miR-7 axis ameliorated cartilage degradation and defection of autophagy by PI3K/AKT/mTOR activation in IL-1β-induced chondrocytes. Furthermore, an OA model was established in rats with medial meniscus destabilization. miR-7-siRNA-expressing lentiviruses alleviated surgical resection-induced cartilage destruction of OA mice, whereas miR-7 mimics worsened the effects. Thus, these findings revealed that the mechanism of the ciRS-7/miR-7 axis involved regulating OA progression and provided valuable directions for OA treatment.