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Intervertebral discs (IVD) have a higher extracellular osmolarity than most other tissues; moreover their osmolarity changes by around 25% during each diurnal cycle. In this study, changes in aggrecan, collagen I and collagen II expression of IVD cells were examined after exposure to osmotic environment alterations or mechanical stimulation under different osmotic conditions. Human and bovine IVD cells seeded in three-dimensional (3D) collagen type I matrices were cultured under hypo-osmotic (300 mOsm), iso-osmotic (400 mOsm), or hyperosmotic (500 mOsm) conditions. Osmolarity-induced changes in gene expression of IVD cells were measured after 5 days. Load-induced changes in gene expression under the different osmotic conditions were measured after application of hydrostatic pressure (0.25 MPa, 0.1 Hz, 30 min) or cyclic strain (4%, 1 Hz, 24 h). The results showed that IVD cells respond strongly to changes in the osmotic environment by altering mRNA expression. Human cells cultured over 5 days increased expression of aggrecan and collagen II in both nucleus and annulus cells under increasing osmolarity. In contrast, collagen I expression was inhibited at high osmolarity in both cell types. Mechanically induced alterations in gene expression appear to have only modest effects on matrix protein expression, but the same stimulus partly resulted in an inhibition or stimulation of gene expression, depending on the osmotic conditions. This study showed that the osmotic environment does not only have an appreciable effect on gene expression but also affects responses to mechanical stimuli. This suggests that the osmotic conditions cannot be ignored when examining physiological and pathological behavior of IVD cells.

Original publication




Journal article


J Orthop Res

Publication Date





1513 - 1522


Adult, Aged, Aggrecans, Animals, Cattle, Cells, Cultured, Collagen Type I, Collagen Type II, Female, Gene Expression Regulation, Humans, Hydrostatic Pressure, Intervertebral Disc, Male, Middle Aged, Osmolar Concentration, RNA, Messenger, Stress, Mechanical, Weight-Bearing