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J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2006 Apr;88 Suppl 2:25-9.

Extracellular matrix in disc degeneration.

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Department of Experimental Medical Sciences, Lund University, BMC-plan C12, SE-221 84 Lund, Sweden.


The extracellular matrix of the intervertebral disc structures contains many molecules also found in cartilage. The extremely polyanionic proteoglycans play a central role, particularly in the nucleus, by creating an osmotic environment leading to retention of water and ensuing resistance to deformation-important for the resilience of the tissue. Another major structural entity particularly important in the anulus is the network of collagen fibers; fibril-forming collagen 1 is a major constituent. The collagen fibrils in the anulus are largely oriented in sheets around the nucleus. A number of molecules present in the matrix regulate and direct the collagen fibril assembly by interacting with the collagen molecule and also the formed fibril. Several of these molecules bind by one domain to the collagen fiber and present another functional domain to interact either with other fibers or with other matrix constituents. In this manner the collagen fibers are cross-linked into a network that provides tensile strength and distributes load over large parts of the anulus. Diminished function in these cross-bridging molecules will lead to loss of mechanical properties of the collagen network and result in an impaired ability of the anulus to resist forces delivered by compression of the disc and particularly the nucleus. A different network abundant in the disc and in other load-bearing tissues is based on the beaded filaments of collagen 6. The basic building block is a tetramer of two pairs of antiparallel collagen-6 molecules arranged such that two N-terminal ends of collagen 6 are exposed at either end of the unit. Further assembly occurs both by end-to-end and side-to-side associations. This process is catalyzed by both biglycan and decorin, where the combined effect of direct binding of the core protein to the collagen-6 N-terminal globular domain and the presence of the glycosaminoglycan side chain is essential. These ligands are bound at the same site in complexes extracted from the tissue and then also have one bound molecule of matrilin-1, 2, or 3, in turn bound to a collagen fiber, a procollagen molecule, or an aggrecan. Interactions at the cell surface provide signals to the cells with regard to the conditions of the matrix. Such interactions include binding by matrix components to various receptors at the cell surface. Remodeling of the matrix takes place in response to various factors. An early event in disease is degradation of aggrecan by the members of the ADAMTS (a disintegrin-like and metalloprotease with thrombospondin motifs) family and degradation of molecules important in maintaining the collagen network.

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