Dr. Randy Rosier of the University of Rochester Medical Center said that out of those who sustain a knee injury, nearly half will develop osteoarthritis, a debilitating condition that causes pain and disability in more than 20 million Americans each year.
A particular form of these regulatory enzymes, smurf2, controls whether a cartilage cell matures and calcifies into hard bone, Rosier said.
"But when smurf2 is active in joint cartilage, it may set off a chain reaction that leads to the steady deterioration of the smooth gliding surface tissue, or cartilage, which comprises the joint surface. When this occurs, the cartilage breaks down and severely damages the weight-bearing surface of a joint."
The researchers said their ultimate goal is to create a simple diagnostic test to determine whether a person with a knee injury has a high level of smurf2s in their cartilage.
"In these cases, physicians can advise the patient to stop high-intensity, wear-and-tear activity, slowing the onset of arthritis and lessening its severity," Rosier said in a statement.
Notable deaths of 2014 [PHOTOS]