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J Orthop Res. 2008 Jul;26(7):991-8. doi: 10.1002/jor.20604.

p38 MAPK inhibition modulates rabbit nucleus pulposus cell response to IL-1.

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VAPHS, 151-U, 2W-144, University Drive C, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15240, USA.


Analysis of disc gene expression implicated IL-1 in the development of intervertebral disc degeneration (IDD) in a rabbit stab model. The purpose of these studies is to determine the role of p38 Mitogen Activated Protein Kinase (p38 MAPK) signaling in nucleus pulposus cell response to IL-1, and to compare rabbit nucleus pulposus (rNP) cell responses to IL-1 activation with those in a stab model of disc degeneration. NP cells maintained in alginate bead culture were exposed to IL-1, with or without p38 MAPK inhibition. RNA was isolated for reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) analysis of gene expression, conditioned media analyzed for accumulation of nitric oxide (NO) and prostaglandin E-2 (PGE-2), and proteoglycan synthesis measured after 10 days. IL-1 upregulation of mRNA for cycloxygenase-2 (COX-2), matrix metalloproteinase-3 (MMP-3), IL-1, and IL-6, was blunted by p38 inhibition while downregulation of matrix proteins (collagen I, collagen II, aggrecan) and insulin-like-growth-factor I (IFG-1) was also reversed. mRNA for tissue inhibitor of matrixmetalloproteinase-1 (TIMP-1) was modestly increased by IL-1, while those for Transforming Growth Factor-beta (TGF-beta) SOX-9, and versican remained unchanged. Blocking p38 MAPK reduced IL-1 induced NO and PGE-2 accumulation and partially restored proteoglycan synthesis. p38 MAPK inhibition in control cells increased mRNA for matrix proteins (aggrecan, collagen II, versican, collagen I) and anabolic factors (IGF-1, TGF, and SOX-9) from 50% to 120%, decreased basal PGE-2 accumulation, but had no effect on message for TIMP-1, MMP-3, or COX-2. Inhibition of p38 MAPK in cytokine-activated disc cells blunts gene expression and production of factors associated with inflammation, pain, and disc matrix catabolism while reversing IL-1 downregulation of matrix protein gene expression and proteoglycan synthesis. The results support the hypothesis that IL-1 could be responsible for many of the mRNA changes seen in rabbit NP in the stab model of disc degeneration, and uphold the concept that development of molecular techniques to block p38 MAPK could provide a therapeutic approach to slow the course of intervertebral disc degeneration.

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