European Spine Journal

, Volume 16, Issue 12, pp 2174–2185 | Cite as

A phenotypic comparison of intervertebral disc and articular cartilage cells in the rat

  • Cynthia R. Lee
  • Daisuke Sakai
  • Tomoko Nakai
  • Kanae Toyama
  • Joji Mochida
  • Mauro Alini
  • Sibylle GradEmail author
Original Article


The basic molecular characteristics of intervertebral disc cells are still poorly defined. This study compared the phenotypes of nucleus pulposus (NP), annulus fibrosus (AF) and articular cartilage (AC) cells using rat coccygeal discs and AC from both young and aged animals and a combination of microarray, real-time RT-PCR and immunohistochemistry. Microarray analysis identified 63 genes with at least a fivefold difference in fluorescence intensity between the NP and AF cells and 41 genes with a fivefold or greater difference comparing NP cells and articular chondrocytes. In young rats, the relative mRNA levels, assessed by real-time RT-PCR, of annexin A3, glypican 3 (gpc3), keratin 19 (k19) and pleiotrophin (ptn) were significantly higher in NP compared to AF and AC samples. Furthermore, vimentin (vim) mRNA was higher in NP versus AC, and expression levels of cartilage oligomeric matrix protein (comp) and matrix gla protein (mgp) were lower in NP versus AC. Higher NP levels of comp and mgp mRNA and higher AF levels of gpc3, k19, mgp and ptn mRNA were found in aged compared to young tissue. However, the large differences between NP and AC expression of gpc3 and k19 were obvious even in the aged animals. Furthermore, the differences in expression levels of gpc3 and k19 were also evident at the protein level, with intense immunostaining for both proteins in NP and non-existent immunoreaction in AF and AC. Future studies using different species are required to evaluate whether the expression of these molecules can be used to characterize NP cells and distinguish them from other chondrocyte-like cells.


Nucleus pulposus Articular cartilage Phenotype expression Glypican 3 Keratin 19 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cynthia R. Lee
    • 1
    • 2
  • Daisuke Sakai
    • 3
  • Tomoko Nakai
    • 3
  • Kanae Toyama
    • 3
  • Joji Mochida
    • 3
  • Mauro Alini
    • 1
  • Sibylle Grad
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering ProgramAO Research InstituteDavos PlatzSwitzerland
  2. 2.Johnson & Johnson Regenerative TherapeuticsRaynhamUSA
  3. 3.Department of Orthopaedic SurgeryTokai University School of MedicineIsehara, KanagawaJapan

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