Can notochordal cells promote bone marrow stromal cell potential for nucleus pulposus enrichment? A simplified in vitro system

Esther Potier, Keita Ito
Tissue Engineering. Part A 2014, 20 (23-24): 3241-51
Bone marrow stromal cells (BMSCs) have shown promising potential to stop intervertebral disc degeneration in several animal models. In order to restore a healthy state, though, this potential should be further stimulated. Notochordal cells (NCs), influential in disc development, have been shown to stimulate BMSC differentiation, but it is unclear how this effect will translate in an environment where resident disc cells (nucleus pulposus cells [NPCs]) could also influence BMSCs. The goal of this study was, therefore, to evaluate the effects of NCs on BMSCs when cocultured with NPCs, in a simplified 3D in vitro system. Bovine BMSCs and NPCs were mixed (Mix) and seeded into alginate beads. Using culture inserts, the Mix was then cocultured with porcine NCs (alginate beads) and compared to coculture with empty beads or porcine skin fibroblasts (SFs, alginate beads). NPCs alone were also cocultured with NCs, and BMSCs alone cultured under chondrogenic conditions. The effects of coculture conditions on cell viability, matrix production (proteoglycan and collagen), and gene expression of disc markers (aggrecan, type II collagen, and SOX9) were assessed after 4 weeks of culture. The NC phenotype and gene expression profile were also analyzed. Coculture with NCs did not significantly influence cell viability, proteoglycan production, or disc marker gene expression of the Mix. When compared to NPCs, the Mix produced the same amount of proteoglycan and displayed a higher expression of disc marker, indicating a stimulation of the BMSCs (and/or NPCs) in the Mix. Additionally, during the 4 weeks of culture, the NC phenotype changed drastically (morphology, gene expression profile). These results show that NCs might not be as stimulatory for BMSCs in an NPC-rich environment, as believed from individual cultures. This absence of effects could be explained by a mild stimulation provided by (de)differentiating NCs and the costimulation of BMSCs and NPCs by each other.

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