Intervertebral disc and endplate cell characterisation highlights annulus fibrosus cells as the most promising for tissue-specific disc degeneration therapy

Eur Cell Mater. 2020 Mar 3;39:156-170. doi: 10.22203/eCM.v039a10.


Degenerative processes of the intervertebral disc (IVD) and cartilaginous endplate lead to chronic spine pathologies. Several studies speculated on the intrinsic regenerative capacity of degenerated IVD related to the presence of local mesenchymal progenitors. However, a complete characterisation of the resident IVD cell populations, particularly that isolated from the endplate, is lacking. The purpose of the present study was to characterise the gene expression profiles of human nucleus pulposus (NPCs), annulus fibrosus (AFCs) and endplate (EPCs) cells, setting the basis for future studies aimed at identifying the most promising cells for regenerative purposes. Cells isolated from NP, AF and EP were analysed after in vitro expansion for their stemness ability, immunophenotype and gene profiles by large-scale microarray analysis. The three cell populations shared a similar clonogenic, adipogenic and osteogenic potential, as well as an immunophenotype with a pattern resembling that of mesenchymal stem cells. NPCs maintained the greatest chondrogenic potential and shared with EPCs the loss of proliferation capability during expansion. The largest number of selectively highly expressed stemness, chondrogenic/tissue-specific and surface genes was found in AFCs, thus representing the most promising source of tissue-specific expanded cells for the treatment of IVD degeneration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Annulus Fibrosus / pathology*
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cellular Senescence / genetics
  • Chondrogenesis / genetics
  • Clone Cells
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans
  • Immunophenotyping
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / metabolism
  • Intervertebral Disc / pathology*
  • Intervertebral Disc Degeneration / pathology*
  • Intervertebral Disc Degeneration / therapy*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Endplate / pathology*
  • Nucleus Pulposus / pathology
  • Organ Specificity
  • RNA / isolation & purification
  • Telomere / genetics


  • Biomarkers
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • RNA