Relationship between Initial Telomere Length, Initial Telomerase Activity, Age, and Replicative Capacity of Nucleus Pulposus Chondrocytes in Human Intervertebral Discs: What Is a Predictor of Replicative Potential?

PLoS One. 2015 Dec 3;10(12):e0144177. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0144177. eCollection 2015.


There is evidence that telomere length (TL), telomerase activity (TA), and age are related to the replicative potential of human nucleus pulposus chondrocytes (NPCs). However, it has not yet been established if any of these factors can serve as predictors of the replicative potential of NPCs. To establish predictors of the replicative potential of NPCs, we evaluated potential relationships between replicative capacity of NPCs, initial TL (telomere length at the first passage), initial TA (telomerase activity at the first passage), and age. Nucleus pulposus specimens were obtained from 14 patients of various ages undergoing discectomy. NPCs were serially cultivated until the end of their replicative lifespans. Relationships among cumulative population doubling level (PDL), initial TL, initial TA, and age were analyzed. Initial TA was negatively correlated with age (r = -0.674, P = 0.008). However, no correlation between initial TL and age was observed. Cumulative PDL was also negatively correlated with age (r = -0.585, P = 0.028). Although the cumulative PDL appeared to increase with initial TL or initial TA, this trend was not statistically significant. In conclusion, age is the sole predictor of the replicative potential of human NPCs, and replicative potential decreases with age. Initial TL and initial TA are not predictors of replicative potential, and can serve only as reference values.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cell Division
  • Chondrocytes / cytology
  • Chondrocytes / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc / cytology
  • Intervertebral Disc / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Telomerase / metabolism*
  • Telomere / metabolism*


  • Telomerase

Grant support

This work was supported by the Catholic Medical Research Foundation: JSL. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.