Cadherin-Mediated Cell-Cell Interactions Regulates Phenotype And Morphology of Nucleus Pulposus Cells Of The Intervertebral Disc
Juvenile nucleus pulposus (NP) cells of the intervertebral disc (IVD) are large, vacuolated cells that form cell clusters with numerous cell-cell interactions. With maturation and aging, NP cells lose their ability to form these cell clusters, with associated changes in NP cell phenotype, morphology and proteoglycan synthesis that may contribute to IVD degeneration. Studies demonstrate healthy, juvenile NP cells exhibit potential for preservation of multi-cell clusters and NP cell phenotype when cultured upon soft, laminin-containing substrates; however, the mechanisms that regulate metabolism and phenotype of these NP cells are not understood. N-cadherin is a cell adhesion molecule that is present in juvenile NP cells, but disappears with age. The goal of this dissertation was to reveal the role of N-cadherin for NP cells in multi-cell clusters that contribute to the maintenance of the juvenile NP cell morphology and phenotype in vitro, and to evaluate the potential for laminin- functionalized poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG-LM) hydrogels to promote human NP cells towards a juvenile NP cell phenotype.
In this dissertation, juvenile porcine IVD cells were promoted to form cell clusters in vitro, and analyzed for preservation of the juvenile NP phenotype on soft, laminin-rich hydrogels. In the first part of this dissertation, preservation of the porcine juvenile NP cell phenotype and presence of N-cadherin was analyzed by culturing porcine NP cells on soft, laminin-rich or PEG-LM hydrogels. Secondly, cadherin-blocking experiments were performed to prevent cluster formation in order to study the importance of cluster formation in NP cell signaling. Finally, human IVD cells were cultured on PEG-LM hydrogels to investigate the potential to revert degenerate, human NP cells toward a juvenile NP cell phenotype and morphology.
Findings reveal soft (<500 Pa), laminin-rich substrates promote NP cell clustering, a key feature of the juvenile NP cell that is associated with N-cadherin positive expression. Additionally, N-cadherin-mediated cell-clustering regulates NP cell matrix production and gene expression of NP-specific and NP-matrix related markers. Inhibition of N-cadherin-mediated contacts resulted in decreased expression of juvenile NP cell features. Finally, juvenile human NP cells are also able to form N-cadherin positive cell clusters on soft, PEG-LM hydrogels with higher expression of juvenile NP cell features compared to culturing on stiff PEG-LM hydrogels. Some degenerate, human NP cells are also able to form N-cadherin positive cell clusters with some features of the juvenile NP cell.
The studies presented in this dissertation support the proposed hypothesis and establish the importance of soft, laminin-rich substrates in promoting NP cell clustering behaviors with associated features of a juvenile cell phenotype and morphology. Additionally, these studies establish a regulatory role for N-cadherin in juvenile NP cells and suggest that preservation of N-cadherin-mediated cell-cell contacts is important for preserving the juvenile NP cell phenotype and morphology. Furthermore, findings from this dissertation reveal the ability to promote degenerate, mature human NP cells towards a juvenile NP cell phenotype, demonstrating the potential to use PEG-LM hydrogels as a means for autologous cell delivery for the restoration of healthy IVD.
polyethylene glycol (PEG)
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