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Exploiting notochord cells for stem cell-based regeneration of the intervertebral disc

By Matthew R. McCann, Corey A. Bacher and Cheryle A. Séguin


The nucleus pulposus is an avascular and aneural tissue that has significant influence on the homeostasis and overall function of the intervertebral disc. The nucleus pulposus is comprised of a heterogeneous population of cells including large notochord cells and smaller chondrocyte-like cells. Loss of notochord cells has been correlated with the pathogenesis of disc degeneration and consequently, it has been hypothesized that regeneration of the disc could be mediated by notochord cells. Attempts to grow and expand notochord cells in vitro have thus far been limited by cell availability and ineffective culturing methodologies. As a result, co-culturing techniques have been developed in order to exploit notochord-derived signals for the differentiation of proliferative mesenchymal stem cells. A recent study by Korecki et al. has demonstrated that notochord cell conditioned medium has the ability to differentiate mesenchymal stem cells toward a nucleus pulposus-like fate, producing high levels of glycosaminoglycans and type III collagen. These findings suggest that growth factors and other soluble proteins may be able to stimulate endogenous IVD tissue maintenance in vivo. While this study advances our understanding of intervertebral disc cell-cell interactions, limitations remain in our ability to determine the phenotype of terminally differentiated cells within the nucleus pulposus (ie mature notochord cells) and therefore assess the relevance of differentiated mesenchymal stem cells for disc regeneration. In order for the field to progress, elucidation of the notochord phenotype remains of utmost importance

Topics: Commentary
Publisher: Springer Netherlands
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Provided by: PubMed Central
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