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Papers of the Week

Papers: 9 Dec 2023 - 15 Dec 2023

2024 Jan





Single cell RNA sequencing reveals emergent notochord-derived cell subpopulations in the postnatal nucleus pulposus.


Zhang C, Zhong L, Lau YK, Wu M, Yao L, Schaer TP, Mauck RL, Malhotra NR, Qin L, Smith LJ


Intervertebral disc degeneration is a leading cause of chronic low back pain. Cell-based strategies that seek to treat disc degeneration by regenerating the central nucleus pulposus (NP) hold significant promise, but key challenges remain. One of these is the inability of therapeutic cells to effectively mimic the performance of native NP cells, which are unique amongst skeletal cell types in that they arise from the embryonic notochord. In this study, we use single cell RNA sequencing to demonstrate emergent heterogeneity amongst notochord-derived NP cells in the postnatal mouse disc. Specifically, we established the existence of progenitor and mature NP cells, corresponding to notochordal and chondrocyte-like cells, respectively. Mature NP cells exhibited significantly higher expression levels of extracellular matrix (ECM) genes including aggrecan, and collagens II and VI, along with elevated transforming growth factor-beta and phosphoinositide 3 kinase-protein kinase B signaling. Additionally, we identified Cd9 as a novel surface marker of mature NP cells, and demonstrated that these cells were localized to the NP periphery, increased in numbers with increasing postnatal age, and co-localized with emerging glycosaminoglycan-rich matrix. Finally, we used a goat model to show that Cd9+ NP cell numbers decrease with moderate severity disc degeneration, suggesting that these cells are associated with maintenance of the healthy NP ECM. Improved understanding of the developmental mechanisms underlying regulation of ECM deposition in the postnatal NP may inform improved regenerative strategies for disc degeneration and associated low back pain.