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Spine J. 2013 Mar;13(3):352-62. doi: 10.1016/j.spinee.2012.12.005. Epub 2013 Jan 20.

The effects of microenvironment in mesenchymal stem cell-based regeneration of intervertebral disc.

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Department of Orthopaedics and Traumatology, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, Queen Mary Hospital, The University of Hong Kong, 5/F Professor Block, Pokfulam, Hong Kong, China.



Recent studies have demonstrated new therapeutic strategy using transplantation of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), especially bone marrow-derived MSCs (BM-MSCs), to preserve intervertebral disc (IVD) structure and functions. It is important to understand whether and how the MSCs survive and thrive in the hostile microenvironment of the degenerated IVD. Therefore, this review majorly examines how resident disc cells, hypoxia, low nutrition, acidic pH, mechanical loading, endogenous proteinases, and cytokines regulate the behavior of the exogenous MSCs.


To review and summarize the effect of the microenvironment in biological characteristics of BM-MSCs for IVD regeneration; the presence of endogenous stem cells and the state of the art in the use of BM-MSCs to regenerate the IVD in vivo were also discussed.


Literature review.


MEDLINE electronic database was used to search for articles concerning stem/progenitor cell isolation from the IVD, regulation of the components of microenvironment for MSCs, and MSC-based therapy for IVD degeneration. The search was limited to English language.


Stem cells are probably resident in the disc, but exogenous stem cells, especially BM-MSCs, are currently the most popular graft cells for IVD regeneration. The endogenous disc cells and the biochemical and biophysical components in the degenerating disc present a complicated microenvironment to regulate the transplanted BM-MSCs. Although MSCs regenerate the mildly degenerative disc effectively in the experimental and clinical trials, many underlying questions are in need of further investigation.


There has been a dramatic improvement in the understanding of potential MSC-based therapy for IVD regeneration. The use of MSCs for IVD degeneration is still at the stage of preclinical and Phase 1 studies. The effects of the disc microenvironment in MSCs survival and function should be closely studied for transferring MSC transplantation from bench to bedside successfully.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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