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There is evidence that a fall in nutrient supply leads to disc degeneration but little understanding of the effects of nutrient deprivation on the physiology of disc cells which govern the composition of the disc. We examined the effects of changes in glucose and oxygen concentration and pH on the viability and metabolism of cells from bovine nucleus pulposus. Cells isolated from bovine discs and embedded in alginate beads were cultured under oxygen and glucose concentrations from zero to physiological levels and maintained at pH 7.4, pH 6.7, or pH 6.2 for up to 3 days. Interactions between nutrient concentrations were examined in relation to cell viability and lactic acid production. Cell viability was significantly reduced in the absence of glucose, with or without oxygen. Disc cells survived at 0% oxygen, provided that glucose was present, as seen previously. Cell viability decreased if the medium was acidic, more so when combined with low glucose concentrations. The rate of lactic acid production also fell as the pH became acidic and after 24 h or more at low glucose concentrations, but it did not appear to vary with oxygen concentration under the culture conditions used here. Glucose, rather than oxygen, appears to be the nutrient critical for maintaining disc cell viability. However, in an avascular tissue such as the disc, it is unlikely that glucose deprivation will occur alone; it will almost certainly correlate with a fall in oxygen concentration and pH. These results indicate that the combined nutrient and metabolite environment, rather than concentrations of any single nutrient, should be considered when studying cellular physiology in the disc.

Original publication




Journal article


Eur Spine J

Publication Date





695 - 701


Animals, Cattle, Cell Survival, Cells, Cultured, Chondrocytes, Energy Metabolism, Glucose, Hydrogen-Ion Concentration, Hypoxia, Intervertebral Disc, Ischemia, Lactic Acid