Zonal variations in cytoskeletal element organization, mRNA and protein expression in the intervertebral disc

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The intervertebral disc is important in maintaining flexibility and dissipating loads applied to the spine. The disc comprises a heterogeneous population of cells, including those of the nucleus pulposus and annulus fibrosus, which are diverse in phenotype, partly due to the different mechanical loads they experience. Several studies have implicated the cytoskeleton in mechanotransduction, but little characterization of the three major cytoskeletal elements – actin, tubulin and vimentin – in the intervertebral disc has been undertaken. In this study we show that there are differences in both the organization and the amounts of these cytoskeletal proteins across the regions of immature bovine intervertebral disc (nucleus pulposus and outer annulus fibrosus), which differs with skeletal maturity. These differences are likely to reflect the diverse mechanical characteristics of the disc regions, and the loads that they experience, i.e. tension in the annulus fibrosus and compression in the nucleus pulposus. Alterations to the organization and amount of cytoskeletal element proteins may change the ability of the cells to respond to mechanical signals, with a loss of tissue homeostasis, suggesting that the cytoskeleton has a potential role in intervertebral disc degeneration.

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