The Effect of Serial Monolayer Passaging on the Collagen Expression Profile of Outer and Inner Anulus Fibrosus Cells

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Study Design.

Sheep outer and inner anulus fibrosus cells were isolated and analyzed to determine the effect of serial monolayer passaging on their phenotype.


To characterize the effect of sequential serial passage on outer and inner anulus cells to determine at which point passaged cells are significantly different from freshly isolated cells.

Summary of Background Data.

Previous studies show that chondrocytic cells lose their differentiated phenotype with sequential monolayer passage. Although intervertebral disc cells are similar, to our knowledge, a complete characterization of passage effects has not been performed.


Sheep outer and inner anulus cells were isolated, serially passaged, and evaluated for changes in cellular morphology, collagen I and II gene expression and protein elaboration, and total protein and deoxyribonucleic acid content.


Outer anulus cells displayed an elongated morphology, while inner anulus cells were initially polygonal and became more fibroblast-like with passage. At low passage, outer anulus cells showed higher collagen I expression, while inner anulus cells indicated higher collagen II expression. At high passage, collagen I expression increased for inner anulus cells and decreased for outer anulus cells, whereas collagen II expression decreased for both cell types. Immunohistochemical staining confirmed gene expression results.


The differences in expression profiles of outer and inner anulus cells support previous findings that zonal differences exist between the cell types. Up to passage 2, both cell types were not significantly different from freshly isolated cells and maintained distinct phenotypic characteristics. However, after 6 sequential passages, outer and inner anulus cells became morphologically indistinguishable, and displayed no significant differences in collagen I gene and protein expression, thus becoming a more homogeneous population. As such, serial monolayer passaging has a marked effect on disc cell behavior, and is an important factor to consider when designing and evaluating in vitro studies and for potential cell-based therapies for disc repair.

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