Dynamic imaging demonstrates that pulsed electromagnetic fields (PEMF) suppress IL-6 transcription in bovine nucleus pulposus cells

J Orthop Res. 2018 Feb;36(2):778-787. doi: 10.1002/jor.23713. Epub 2017 Oct 17.


Inflammatory cytokines play a dominant role in the pathogenesis of disc degeneration. Pulsed electromagnetic fields (PEMF) are noninvasive biophysical stimulus that has been used extensively in the orthopaedic field for many years. However, the specific cellular responses and mechanisms involved are still unclear. The objective of this study was to assess the time-dependent PEMF effects on pro-inflammatory factor IL-6 expression in disc nucleus pulposus cells using a novel green fluorescence protein (GFP) reporter system. An MS2-tagged GFP reporter system driven by IL-6 promoter was constructed to visualize PEMF treatment effect on IL-6 transcription in single living cells. IL-6-MS2 reporter-labeled cells were treated with IL-1α to mimic the in situ inflammatory environment of degenerative disc while simultaneously exposed to PEMF continuously for 4 h. Time-lapse imaging was recorded using a confocal microscope to track dynamic IL-6 transcription activity that was demonstrated by GFP. Finally, real-time RT-PCR was performed to confirm the imaging data. Live cell imaging demonstrated that pro-inflammatory factor IL-1α significantly promoted IL-6 transcription over time as compared with DMEM basal medium condition. Imaging and PCR data demonstrated that the inductive effect of IL-1α on IL-6 expression could be significantly inhibited by PEMF treatment in a time-dependent manner (early as 2 h of stimulus initiation). Our data suggest that PEMF may have a role in the clinical management of patients with chronic low back pain. Furthermore, this study shows that the MS2-tagged GFP reporter system is a useful tool for visualizing the dynamic events of mechanobiology in musculoskeletal research. © 2017 The Authors. Journal of Orthopaedic Research® Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of Orthopaedic Research Society. J Orthop Res 35:778-787, 2018.

Keywords: IL-6 mRNA expression; MS2-GFP reporter; dynamic imaging; pulsed electromagnetic fields; spine/disc biology.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Electromagnetic Fields
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Interleukin-1alpha
  • Interleukin-6 / metabolism*
  • Intervertebral Disc Degeneration / therapy
  • Magnetic Field Therapy
  • Nucleus Pulposus / metabolism*
  • Primary Cell Culture
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Transcription, Genetic


  • Interleukin-1alpha
  • Interleukin-6