Shh Signaling from the Nucleus Pulposus Is Required for the Postnatal Growth and Differentiation of the Mouse Intervertebral Disc

Division of Orthopaedic Surgery, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.
PLoS ONE (Impact Factor: 3.23). 04/2012; 7(4):e35944. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0035944
Source: PubMed


Intervertebral discs (IVD) are essential components of the vertebral column. They maintain separation, and provide shock absorbing buffers, between adjacent vertebrae, while also allowing movements between them. Each IVD consists of a central semi-liquid nucleus pulposus (NP) surrounded by a multi-layered fibrocartilagenous annulus fibrosus (AF). Although the IVDs grow and differentiate after birth along with the vertebral column, little is known about the mechanism of this. Understanding the signals that control normal IVD growth and differentiation would also provide potential therapies for degenerative disc disease, which is the major cause of lower back pain and affects a large proportion of the population. In this work, we show that during postnatal growth of the mouse, Sonic hedgehog (Shh) signaling from the NP cells controls many aspects of growth and differentiation of both the NP cells themselves and of the surrounding AF, and that it acts, at least partly, by regulating other signaling pathways in the NP and AF. Recent studies have shown that the NP cells arise from the embryonic notochord, which acts as a major signaling center in the embryo. This work shows that this notochord-derived tissue continues to carry out a major signaling function in the postnatal body and that the IVDs are signaling centers, in addition to their already known functions in the mechanics of vertebral column function.

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    • "We have demonstrated that Shh signaling is both necessary and sufficient for cell proliferation in the NP during postnatal growth [8]. Therefore we assayed for cell proliferation following activation or blockade of canonical Wnt signaling. "
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    ABSTRACT: Intervertebral discs (IVDs) are strong fibrocartilaginous joints that connect adjacent vertebrae of the spine. As discs age they become prone to failure, with neurological consequences that are often severe. Surgical repair of discs treats the result of the disease, which affects as many as one in seven people, rather than its cause. An ideal solution would be to repair degenerating discs using the mechanisms of their normal differentiation. However, these mechanisms are poorly understood. Using the mouse as a model, we previously showed that Shh signaling produced by nucleus pulposus cells activates the expression of differentiation markers, and cell proliferation, in the postnatal IVD. In the present study, we show that canonical Wnt signaling is required for the expression of Shh signaling targets in the IVD. We also show that Shh and canonical Wnt signaling pathways are down-regulated in adult IVDs. Furthermore, this down-regulation is reversible, since re-activation of the Wnt or Shh pathways in older discs can re-activate molecular markers of the IVD that are lost with age. These data suggest that biological treatments targeting Wnt and Shh signaling pathways may be feasible as a therapeutic for degenerative disc disease.
    PLoS ONE 06/2014; 9(6):e98444. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0098444 · 3.23 Impact Factor
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    • "SHH is such a ligand, essential for the formation of the NP [53], and more recent studies by Dahia and colleagues have shown an important role for SHH in postnatal growth of the IVD including regulation of the transforming growth factor beta pathway. SHH maintains expression of phenotypic makers such as Brachyury as well as expression of matrix proteins [27]. In our culture system, SHH was expressed in notochordal and matured NP, and was associated with large NCs, SNPCs and matrix. "
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    ABSTRACT: Notochordal cells (NCs) pattern aneural and avascular intervertebral discs (IVDs), and their disappearance, is associated with onset of IVD degeneration. This study induced and characterized the maturation of nucleus pulposus (NP) tissue from a gelatinous NC-rich structure to a matrix-rich structure populated by small NP cells using dynamic pressurization in an ex vivo culture model, and also identified soluble factors from NCs with therapeutic potential. Porcine NC-rich NP tissue was cultured and loaded with hydrostatic pressure (0.5 to 2 MPa at 0.1 Hz for 2 hours) either Daily, for 1 Dose, or Control (no pressurization) groups for up to eight days. Cell phenotype and tissue maturation was characterized with measurements of cell viability, cytomorphology, nitric oxide, metabolic activity, matrix composition, gene expression, and proteomics. Daily pressurization induced transition of NCs to small NP cells with 73.8%, 44%, and 28% NCs for Control, 1 Dose and Daily groups, respectively (P < 0.0002) and no relevant cell death. Dynamic loading matured NP tissue by significantly increasing metabolic activity and accumulating Safranin-O-stained matrix. Load-induced maturation was also apparent from the significantly decreased glycolytic, cytoskeletal (Vimentin) and stress-inducible (HSP70) proteins assessed with proteomics. Loading increased the production of bioactive proteins Sonic Hedgehog (SHH) and Noggin, and maintained Semaphorin3A (Sema3A). NP tissue maturation was induced from dynamic hydrostatic pressurization in a controlled ex vivo environment without influence from systemic effects or surrounding structures. NCs transitioned into small nonvacuolated NP cells probably via differentiation as evidenced by high cell viability, lack of nitric oxide and downregulation of stress-inducible and cytoskeletal proteins. SHH, Sema3A, and Noggin, which have patterning and neurovascular-inhibiting properties, were produced in both notochordal and matured porcine NP. Results therefore provide an important piece of evidence suggesting the transition of NCs to small NP cells is a natural part of aging and not the initiation of degeneration. Bioactive candidates identified from young porcine IVDs may be isolated and harnessed for therapies to target discogenic back pain.
    Arthritis research & therapy 09/2013; 15(5):R122. DOI:10.1186/ar4302 · 3.75 Impact Factor
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    • "It is likely that other pathways besides hedgehog signaling are responsible for disc formation. Removal of hedgehog signaling from the post-natal disc both in vivo and in vitro was reported to decrease TGF-β and Wnt signaling [65]. In addition, Wnt signaling was shown to be required for posterior tail development. "
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    ABSTRACT: The intervertebral disc (IVD) is composed of 3 main structures, the collagenous annulus fibrosus (AF), which surrounds the gel-like nucleus pulposus (NP), and hyaline cartilage endplates, which are attached to the vertebral bodies. An IVD is located between each vertebral body. Degeneration of the IVD is thought to be a major cause of back pain, a potentially chronic condition for which there exist few effective treatments. The NP forms from the embryonic notochord. Foxa1 and Foxa2, transcription factors in the forkhead box family, are expressed early during notochord development. However, embryonic lethality and the absence of the notochord in Foxa2 null mice have precluded the study of potential roles these genes may play during IVD formation. Using a conditional Foxa2 allele in conjunction with a tamoxifen-inducible Cre allele (ShhcreER(T2)), we removed Foxa2 from the notochord of E7.5 mice null for Foxa1. Foxa1(-/-);Foxa2(c/c);ShhcreER(T2) double mutant animals had a severely deformed nucleus pulposus, an increase in cell death in the tail, decreased hedgehog signaling, defects in the notochord sheath, and aberrant dorsal-ventral patterning of the neural tube. Embryos lacking only Foxa1 or Foxa2 from the notochord were indistinguishable from control animals, demonstrating a functional redundancy for these genes in IVD formation. In addition, we provide in vivo genetic evidence that Foxa genes are required for activation of Shh in the notochord.
    PLoS ONE 01/2013; 8(1):e55528. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0055528 · 3.23 Impact Factor
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