European Spine Journal

, 15:389 | Cite as

Topographical guidance of intervertebral disc cell growth in vitro: towards the development of tissue repair strategies for the anulus fibrosus

  • William E. Johnson
  • Andrew Wootton
  • Alicia El Haj
  • Stephen M. Eisenstein
  • Adam S. Curtis
  • Sally Roberts
Original Article


The anulus fibrosus (AF) of the intervertebral disc consists of concentric sheets of collagenous matrix that is synthesised during embryogenesis by aligned disc cells. This highly organised structure may be severely disrupted during disc degeneration and/or herniation. Cell scaffolds that incorporate topographical cues as contact guidance have been used successfully to promote the healing of injured tendons. Therefore, we have investigated the effects of topography on disc cell growth. We show that disc cells from the AF and nucleus pulposus (NP) behaved differently in monolayer culture on micro-grooved membranes of polycaprolactone (PCL). Both cell types aligned to and migrated along the membrane’s micro-grooves and ridges, but AF cells were smaller (or less spread), more bipolar and better aligned to the micro-grooves than NP cells. In addition, AF cells were markedly more immunopositive for type I collagen, but less immunopositive for chondroitin-6-sulphated proteoglycans than NP cells. There was no evidence of extracellular matrix (ECM) deposition. Disc cells cultured on non-grooved PCL did not show any preferential alignment at sub-confluence and did not differ in their pattern of immunopositivity to those on grooved PCL. We conclude that substratum topography is effective in aligning disc cell growth and may be useful in tissue engineering for the AF. However, there is a need to optimise cell sources and/or environmental conditions (e.g. mechanical influences) to promote the synthesis of an aligned ECM.


Intervertebral disc Anulus fibrosus Tissue engineering Topography Cell culture 



This study was part-funded by Eurodisc: QLK6-CT-2002-02582. We are grateful to Professor Bruce Caterson for the provision of antibodies and to Helena Evans and Janis Menage for their technical expertise.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • William E. Johnson
    • 1
  • Andrew Wootton
    • 2
  • Alicia El Haj
    • 2
  • Stephen M. Eisenstein
    • 1
  • Adam S. Curtis
    • 3
  • Sally Roberts
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Spinal StudiesRobert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic HospitalOswestryUK
  2. 2.Institute of Science and Technology in MedicineKeele UniversityKeeleUK
  3. 3.Centre for Cell EngineeringGlasgow UniversityGlasgowUK

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