Transplantation of gene-modified nucleus pulposus cells reverses rabbit intervertebral disc degeneration

Yong Liu, Jian-Min Li, You-Gu Hu
Chinese Medical Journal 2011, 124 (16): 2431-7

BACKGROUND: Intervertebral disc degeneration is the main cause of low back pain. The purpose of this study was to explore potential methods for reversing the degeneration of lumbar intervertebral discs by transplantation of gene-modified nucleus pulposus cells into rabbit degenerative lumbar intervertebral discs after transfecting rabbit nucleus pulposus cells with adeno-associated virus 2 (AAV2)-mediated connective tissue growth factor (CTGF) and tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases 1 (TIMP1) genes in vitro.

METHODS: Computer tomography (CT)-guided percutaneous annulus fibrosus injury was performed to build degenerative lumbar intervertebral disc models in 60 New Zealand white rabbits. rAAV2-CTGF-IRES-TIMP1-transfected rabbit nucleus pulposus cells were transplanted into degenerative lumbar intervertebral discs (transplantation group), phosphate-buffered saline (PBS) was injected into degenerative lumbar intervertebral discs (degeneration control group) and normal lumbar intervertebral discs served as a blank control group. After 6, 10 and 14 weeks, the disc height index (DHI) and signal intensity in intervertebral discs were observed by X-ray and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) analysis. The expression of CTGF and TIMP1 in nucleus pulposus tissue was determined by Western blotting analysis, the synthesis efficiency of proteoglycan was determined by a (35)S-sulfate incorporation assay, and the mRNA expression of type II collagen and proteoglycan was detected by RT-PCR.

RESULTS: MRI confirmed that degenerative intervertebral discs appeared two weeks after percutaneous puncture. Transgenic nucleus pulposus cell transplantation could retard the rapid deterioration of the DHI. MRI indicated that degenerative intervertebral discs were relieved in the transplantation group compared with the degeneration control group. The expression of collagen II mRNA and proteoglycan mRNA was significantly higher in the transplantation group and the blank control group compared with the degeneration control group (P < 0.05).

CONCLUSIONS: CT-guided percutaneous puncture can successfully build rabbit degenerative intervertebral disc models. Both CTGF and TIMP1-transfected cell transplantation helps to maintain disc height, and promotes the biosynthesis of type II collagen and proteoglycan in intervertebral discs, reversing the degeneration of intervertebral discs.

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