The intervertebral disc (IVD) is a complex joint structure comprising three primary components-namely, nucleus pulposus (NP), annulus fibrosus (AF), and cartilaginous endplate (CEP). The IVD retrieves oxygen from the surrounding vertebral body through CEP by diffusion and likely generates ATP via anaerobic glycolysis. IVD degeneration is characterized by a cascade of cellular, compositional, structural changes. With advanced age, pronounced changes occur in the composition of the disc extracellular matrix (ECM). NP and AF cells in the IVD possess poor regenerative capacity compared with that of other tissues. Hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) is a master transcription factor that initiates a coordinated cellular cascade in response to a low oxygen tension environment, including the regulation of numerous enzymes in response to hypoxia. HIF-1α is essential for NP development and homeostasis and is involved in various processes of IVD degeneration process, promotes ECM in NP, maintains the metabolic activities of NP, and regulates dystrophic mineralization of NP, as well as angiogenesis, autophagy, and apoptosis during IVD degeneration. HIF-1α may, therefore, represent a diagnostic tool for early IVD degeneration and a therapeutic target for inhibiting IVD degeneration.
Keywords: disc degeneration; hypoxia-inducible factor-1α; intervertebral disc; nucleus pulposus; regeneration.