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Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2010 Mar;18(3):416-23. doi: 10.1016/j.joca.2009.09.009. Epub 2009 Oct 1.

Variations in gene and protein expression in human nucleus pulposus in comparison with annulus fibrosus and cartilage cells: potential associations with aging and degeneration.

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  • 1Department of Orthopaedics, University Medical Center, Utrecht, The Netherlands.



Regardless of recent progress in the elucidation of intervertebral disc (IVD) degeneration, the basic molecular characteristics that define a healthy human IVD are largely unknown. Although work in different animal species revealed distinct molecules that might be used as characteristic markers for IVD or specifically nucleus pulposus (NP) cells, the validity of these markers for characterization of human IVD cells remains unknown.


Eleven potential marker molecules were characterized with respect to their occurrence in human IVD cells. Gene expression levels of NP were compared with annulus fibrosus (AF) and articular cartilage (AC) cells, and potential correlations with aging were assessed.


Higher mRNA levels of cytokeratin-19 (KRT19) and of neural cell adhesion molecule-1 were noted in NP compared to AF and AC cells. Compared to NP cytokeratin-18 expression was lower in AC, and alpha-2-macroglobulin and desmocollin-2 lower in AF. Cartilage oligomeric matrix protein (COMP) and glypican-3 expression was higher in AF, while COMP, matrix gla protein (MGP) and pleiotrophin expression was higher in AC cells. Furthermore, an age-related decrease in KRT19 and increase in MGP expression were observed in NP cells. The age-dependent expression pattern of KRT19 was confirmed by immunohistochemistry, showing the most prominent KRT19 immunoreaction in the notochordal-like cells in juvenile NP, whereas MGP immunoreactivity was not restricted to NP cells and was found in all age groups.


The gene expression of KRT19 has the potential to characterize human NP cells, whereas MGP cannot serve as a characteristic marker. KRT19 protein expression was only detected in NP cells of donors younger than 54 years.

Copyright 2009 Osteoarthritis Research Society International. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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