Degeneration of the intervertebral disc is characterized by changes in proteoglycan status, loss of bound water molecules, decreased tissue osmotic pressure and a resulting mechanical failure of the disc. A similar spectrum of changes is evident in osteoarthritic articular cartilage. When healthy, resident cells in these skeletal tissues respond to applied mechanical loads by regulating their own osmotic state and the hydration of the extracellular matrix. The transcription factor Tonicity-Responsive Enhancer Binding Protein (TonEBP or NFAT5) is known to mediate the osmoadaptive response in these and other tissues. While the molecular basis of how osmotic loading controls matrix homeostasis is not completely understood, TonEBP regulates the expression of aggrecan and β1,3-glucoronosyltransferase in nucleus pulposus cells, in addition to targets that allow for survival under hypertonic stress. Moreover, in chondrocytes, TonEBP controls expression of several collagen subtypes and Sox9, a master regulator of aggrecan and collagen II expression. Thus, TonEBP-mediated regulation of the matrix composition allows disc cells and chondrocytes to modify the extracellular osmotic state itself. On the other hand, TonEBP in immune cells induces expression of TNF-α, ΙL-6 and MCP-1, pro-inflammatory molecules closely linked to matrix catabolism and pathogenesis of both disc degeneration and osteoarthritis, warranting investigations of this aspect of TonEBP function in skeletal cells. In summary, the TonEBP system, through its effects on extracellular matrix and osmoregulatory genes can be viewed primarily as a protective or homeostatic response to physiological loading.
Keywords: Cartilage; Disc degeneration; Intervertebral disc; Osmoregulation; Proteoglycan-rich matrix; TonEBP.
Copyright © 2014. Published by Elsevier B.V.