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Histochem Cell Biol. 2011 Aug;136(2):163-75. doi: 10.1007/s00418-011-0835-x. Epub 2011 Jul 8.

The response of foetal annulus fibrosus cells to growth factors: modulation of matrix synthesis by TGF-β1 and IGF-1.

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School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Biomedical Sciences Building, Museum Avenue, PO Box 911, Cardiff CF10 3AX, UK.


The annulus fibrosus of the intervertebral disc is a complex radial-ply tissue that derives initially from segmental condensations of axial mesenchyme surrounding the notochord. These mesenchymal condensations differentiate into the early annulus fibrosus during foetal development-their outer part becoming fibrous, containing collagen type I; and their inner part cartilaginous, containing type II collagen and aggrecan. With post-natal growth and ageing, there is a switch from type I to type II collagen and an increase in proteoglycan synthesis in the outer annulus. This fibrocartilaginous metaplasia appears to occur in response to compressive loading of the tissue as occurs in tendons that wrap around bony pulleys, and driven by growth factors, such as TGF-β. In this study, using high-density micromass cultures, we have assessed the response of foetal outer annulus cells to growth factor stimulation with TGF-β1 and IGF-1, growth factors known to occur within the developing disc. We qualitatively and quantitatively describe the stimulatory effects of these growth factors, both alone and in combination, on the synthesis of sulphated glycosaminoglycan, and collagen types I and II by annulus cells. We show a potential role for TGF-β1 in pushing cells towards a fibrocartilaginous phenotype, with possible complementary effects of IGF-1.

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