Cellular and Molecular Bioengineering

, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 51–62 | Cite as

N-Cadherin-Mediated Signaling Regulates Cell Phenotype for Nucleus Pulposus Cells of the Intervertebral Disc

  • Priscilla Y. Hwang
  • Liufang Jing
  • Keith W. Michael
  • William J. Richardson
  • Jun Chen
  • Lori A. Setton


Juvenile nucleus pulposus (NP) cells of the intervertebral disc (IVD) are large, vacuolated cells that form cell clusters with strong cell–cell interactions. With maturation and aging, NP cells lose their ability to form these cell clusters, with aging-associated changes in NP cell phenotype, morphology, and proteoglycan synthesis that may contribute to IVD degeneration. Therefore, it is important to understand the mechanisms governing juvenile NP cell cluster behavior towards the goal of revealing factors that can promote juvenile, healthy NP cell phenotypes. N-cadherin has been identified as a cell–cell adhesion marker that is present in juvenile NP cells, but disappears with age. The goal of this study was to reveal the importance of N-cadherin in regulating cell–cell interactions in juvenile NP cell cluster formation and test for a regulatory role in maintaining a juvenile NP phenotype in vitro. Juvenile porcine IVD cells, of notochordal origin, were promoted to form cell clusters in vitro, and analyzed for preservation of the juvenile NP phenotype. Additionally, cadherin-blocking experiments were performed to prevent cluster formation in order to study the importance of cluster formation in NP cell signaling. Findings reveal N-cadherin-mediated cell–cell contacts promote cell clustering behavior and regulate NP cell matrix production and preservation of NP-specific markers. Inhibition of N-cadherin-mediated contacts resulted in loss of all features of the juvenile NP cell. These results establish a regulatory role for N-cadherin in juvenile NP cells, and suggest that preservation of the N-cadherin mediated cell–cell contact is important for preserving juvenile NP cell phenotype and morphology.


N-cadherin Intervertebral disc Nucleus pulposus Cell–cell interactions 


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Copyright information

© Biomedical Engineering Society 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Priscilla Y. Hwang
    • 1
  • Liufang Jing
    • 1
  • Keith W. Michael
    • 3
  • William J. Richardson
    • 2
  • Jun Chen
    • 2
  • Lori A. Setton
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Biomedical EngineeringDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  2. 2.Department of Orthopaedic SurgeryDuke University Medical CenterDurhamUSA
  3. 3.Department of OrthopaedicsEmory Spine CenterAtlantaUSA

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