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J Orthop Res. 2017 Jan;35(1):61-73. doi: 10.1002/jor.23452. Epub 2016 Oct 20.

Effects of cell type and configuration on anabolic and catabolic activity in 3D co-culture of mesenchymal stem cells and nucleus pulposus cells.

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University of California, San Francisco, California.


Tissue engineering constructs to treat intervertebral disc degeneration must adapt to the hypoxic and inflammatory degenerative disc microenvironment. The objective of this study was to determine the effects of two key design factors, cell type and cell configuration, on the regenerative potential of nucleus pulposus cell (NPC) and mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) constructs. Anabolic and catabolic activity was quantified in constructs of varying cell type (NPCs, MSCs, and a 50:50 co-culture) and varying configuration (individual cells and micropellets). Anabolic and catabolic outcomes were both dependent on cell type. Gene expression of Agg and Col2A1, glycosaminoglycan (GAG) content, and aggrecan immunohistochemistry (IHC), were significantly higher in NPC-only and co-culture groups than in MSC-only groups, with NPC-only groups exhibiting the highest anabolic gene expression levels. However, NPC-only constructs also responded to inflammation and hypoxia with significant upregulation of catabolic genes (MMP-1, MMP-9, MMP-13, and ADAMTS-5). MSC-only groups were unaffected by degenerative media conditions, and co-culture with MSCs modulated catabolic induction of the NPCs. Culturing cells in a micropellet configuration dramatically reduced catabolic induction in co-culture and NPC-only groups. Co-culture micropellets, which take advantage of both cell type and configuration effects, had the most immunomodulatory response, with a significant decrease in MMP-13 and ADAMTS-5 expression in hypoxic and inflammatory media conditions. Co-culture micropellets were also found to self-organize into bilaminar formations with an MSC core and NPC outer layer. Further understanding of these cell type and configuration effects can improve tissue engineering designs. © 2016 The Authors. Journal of Orthopaedic Research published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of the Orthopaedic Research Society. J Orthop Res 35:61-73, 2017.


co-culture; inflammation; intervertebral disc degeneration; micropellet; spheroid

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