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Aging affects response to cyclic tensile stretch: paradigm for intervertebral disc degeneration

Keywords: Intervertebral disc , annulus fibrosus , extracellular matrix , collagen , matrix metalloproteinase , pig

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Much evidence supports a fundamental role for mechanical forces in modulating differentiation, homeostasis, and remodelling of musculoskeletal cells. Little is known, however, regarding mechanobiology and gene expression of intervertebral disc (IVD) cells from older individuals. To characterise the effect of mechanical stimulation on cells from older discs, an in vitro study of IVD cells harvested from different aged pigs was conducted to measure extracellular matrix (ECM) gene expression in response to cyclic tensile stress (CTS). Gene expression of annulus fibrosus (AF) cells from IVDs of mature and older pigs was quantified for the predominant ECM genes; type I collagen, type II collagen and aggrecan, and matrix metalloproteinase 1 (MMP-1), a collagenase that degrades fibrillar collagens.AF cells cultured on flexible-bottom plates were stretched 10 % at 0.5 Hz frequency. After 24 h, gene expression was assayed using reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). Basal mRNA levels without stretching for type II collagen and aggrecan were lower in older annular cells whereas MMP-1 levels were higher compared to mature cells. Following CTS, an adaptive response was elicited in annular cells from both age groups. ECM protein genes were upregulated, whereas MMP-1 was downregulated. The magnitude of response was significantly greater in older cells as compared to mature cells. These data suggest that the cells from the AF of older animals manifest lower basal levels of mRNA for type II collagen and aggrecan and higher levels of MMP-1 possibly due to decreased tensile stress experienced in vivo and is not the result of reduced capacity for response.


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