It is generally agreed that the mechanical environment of intervertebral disc cells plays an important role in maintaining a balanced matrix metabolism. The precise mechanism by which the signals are transduced into the cells is poorly understood. Osmotic changes in the extracellular matrix (ECM) are thought to be involved. Current in-vitro studies on this topic are mostly short-term and show conflicting data on the reaction of disc cells subjected to osmotic changes which is partially due to the heterogenous and often substantially-reduced culture systems. The aim of the study was therefore to investigate the effects of cyclic osmotic loading for 4 weeks on metabolism and matrix gene expression in a full-organ intervertebral disc culture system. Intervertebral disc/endplate units were isolated from New Zealand White Rabbits and cultured either in iso-osmotic media (335 mosmol/kg) or were diurnally exposed for 8 hours to hyper-osmotic conditions (485 mosmol/kg). Cell viability, metabolic activity, matrix composition and matrix gene expression profile (collagen types I/II and aggrecan) were monitored using Live/Dead cell viability assay, tetrazolium reduction test (WST 8), proteoglycan and DNA quantification assays and quantitative PCR. The results show that diurnal osmotic stimulation did not have significant effects on proteoglycan content, cellularity and disc cell viability after 28 days in culture. However, hyperosmolarity caused increased cell death in the early culture phase and counteracted up-regulation of type I collagen gene expression in nucleus and annulus cells. Moreover, the initially decreased cellular dehydrogenase activity recovered with osmotic stimulation after 4 weeks and aggrecan gene down-regulation was delayed, although the latter was not significant according to our statistical criteria. In contrast, collagen type II did not respond to the osmotic changes and was down-regulated in both groups. In conclusion, diurnal hyper-osmotic stimulation of a whole-organ disc/endplate culture partially inhibits a matrix gene expression profile as encountered in degenerative disc disease and counteracts cellular metabolic hypo-activity.
Copyright (c) 2006 Orthopaedic Research Society.