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Papers of the Week

Papers: 10 Jun 2023 - 16 Jun 2023

Basic Science

Animal Studies, Molecular/Cellular, Neurobiology

Inflammation/Inflammatory, Musculoskeletal Pain

2023 May 22



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 hold significant promise, but key challenges remain. One of these is the inability of therapeutic cells to effectively mimic the performance of native nucleus pulposus 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 nucleus pulposus cells in the postnatal mouse disc. Specifically, we established the existence of early and late stage nucleus pulposus cells, corresponding to notochordal progenitor and mature cells, respectively. Late stage cells exhibited significantly higher expression levels of extracellular matrix genes including aggrecan, and collagens II and VI, along with elevated TGF-β and PI3K-Akt signaling. Additionally, we identified Cd9 as a novel surface marker of late stage nucleus pulposus cells, and demonstrated that these cells were localized to the nucleus pulposus periphery, increased in numbers with increasing postnatal age, and co-localized with emerging glycosaminoglycan-rich matrix. Finally, we used a goat model to show the Cd9+ nucleus pulposus cell numbers decrease with moderate severity disc degeneration, suggesting that these cells are associated with maintenance of the healthy nucleus pulposus extracellular matrix. 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.