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Title: The response of human annulus fibrosus cells to cyclic tensile strain : evidence for an altered mechanotransduction pathway with intervertebral disc degeneration
Author: Gilbert, Hamish
ISNI:       0000 0004 2719 3359
Awarding Body: University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2011
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The Intervertebral disc (IVD), comprised of two distinct regions, namely the fibrous annulus fibrosus (AF) and the gelatinous nucleus pulposus (NP), is a fibrocartilage pad located between adjoining vertebrae of the spine. The function of the IVD is to provide stability to the spine, while maintaining movement. IVD degeneration, also known as degenerative disc disease (DDD), is the process whereby the IVD tissue degrades, resulting in loss of function to the disc. Low back pain (LBP) is associated with the degeneration of the IVD, making it important to investigate the pathogenesis of DDD, as this could lead to novel therapies for the prevention and/or treatment of LBP. Mechanical stimuli (MS) are known to be important for IVD cell matrix homeostasis, with cells of the AF and NP responding to physiological forces with a trend towards increased matrix anabolism, while non-physiological forces lead to matrix catabolism. Furthermore, recent evidence suggests that IVD cells derived from degenerate tissue may have lost their ability to respond to physiological MS in the 'normal' anabolic manner, potentially leading to the progression of DDD. It is therefore important to investigate the response of IVD cells derived from both non-degenerate and degenerate tissue to MS, to ascertain whether there is a difference with degeneration. If the response is found to be altered with degeneration, then elucidation of the potentially altered mechanotransduction pathway utilised by degenerate cells could lead to the discovery of novel therapeutic targets for the treatment of DDD. To date, the majority of IVD MS studies have concentrated on the response of NP cells to hydrostatic pressure, with only a limited number of AF studies available. Thus, the first aim of this PhD was to investigate the response of human AF cells derived from non-degenerate and degenerate IVDs to the physiologically relevant mechanical stimulus of cyclic tensile strain (CTS), to ascertain whether the response (regulation of matrix protein and matrix degrading enzyme gene expression) was frequency-dependent or altered with IVD degeneration. Using an in vitro mechanical loading system (Flexcell® Tension Plus™ system, Flexcell International) capable of delivering a CTS of 10% strain, 0.33Hz or 1.0Hz for 20 minutes, the response of AF cells derived from non-degenerate IVDs was found to be frequency-dependent (reduced catabolism at 1.0Hz, with decreased MMP -3 and ADAM-TS -4 gene expression; and catabolic at 0.33Hz, with decreased types I and II collagen and increased MMP -9 gene expression). Furthermore, the response of AF cells to 1.0Hz CTS was shown to be altered with IVD degeneration, depicted by a switch from reduced catabolism (decreased MMP -3 and ADAM-TS -4) in non-degenerate AF cells, to reduced anabolism (decreased aggrecan and type I collagen gene expression) in degenerate AF cells. Subsequently, the second aim of the PhD was to attempt to elucidate the mechanotransduction pathways operating in human AF cells derived from non-degenerate and degenerate IVDs, to ascertain whether the mechanotransduction pathway was altered with IVD degeneration. An identical mechanical stimulation regime was used (1.0Hz CTS) in parallel with functional inhibitors against the cytokines interleukin (IL) -1 and -4, and the cell surface receptors, RGD-recognising integrins. Additionally, the involvement of the cytokine associated transcription factors, nuclear factor kappa beta (NFκB) and signal transducer and activator of transcription (STAT) -6, as well as the integrin-associated kinase, focal adhesion kinase (FAK) was investigated in 1.0Hz CTS-treated non-degenerate AF cells. The response to 1.0Hz CTS (reduced catabolism) of AF cells derived from non-degenerate IVDs occurred in an IL -1, IL -4 and RGD-recognising integrin-dependent manner, with FAK being phosphorylated. Of significant interest, the altered response of AF cells derived from degenerate IVDs to 1.0Hz CTS (reduced anabolism) occurred independently of either cytokine and independently of RGD-recognising integrins, suggesting an altered mechanotransduction pathway in operation and warranting further investigation.
Supervisor: Hoyland, Judith; Millward-Sadler, Jane Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Intervertabral Disc ; Mechanotransduction ; Mechanobiology ; Cyclic Tensile Strain