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Exp Cell Res. 1999 Jan 10;246(1):129-37.

Notochordal cells interact with nucleus pulposus cells: regulation of proteoglycan synthesis.

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Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 55455, USA.


The disappearance of notochordal cells is correlated with early degenerative changes in the intervertebral disc. With increased disc degeneration there is a marked decrease in proteoglycan synthesis, resulting in loss of mechanical function. One possible mechanism for the decrease in proteoglycan synthesis is the loss of notochordal cells from the tissue. In this study, nucleus pulposus cells cocultured with notochordal cells exhibit an increase in proteoglycan synthesis. Interestingly, purified notochordal cells synthesize little proteoglycan as observed by [35S]sulfate incorporation into proteoglycans. The observed increase in proteoglycan synthesis does not appear to be dependent on cell-cell contact; rather it is the result of soluble factor(s) produced by notochordal cells. Finally, no difference in chondroitin sulfate chain size in notochordal-stimulated nucleus pulposus cells was observed which is consistent with an up-regulation in aggrecan core protein synthesis. These results are consistent with canine breeds where notochordal cells persist into adult age and disc degeneration is not observed. This suggests notochordal cells play a vital role in maintaining disc integrity.

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