An optimised culture system for notochordal cell expansion with retention of phenotype

Matthew Humphreys, L. Ward, Stephen Richardson, Judith Hoyland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review



Notochordal (NC) cells display therapeutic potential in treating degeneration of the intervertebral disc. However, research on their phenotype and function is limited by low cell yields and a lack of appropriate methodology for cell expansion. Utilizing porcine cells, this study aimed to develop an optimised culture system which allows expansion of NC cell populations with retention of phenotype.


Post‐natal porcine and foetal human nucleus pulposus tissue was compared histologically and expression of known NC cell marker genes by porcine NC cells was analysed. Porcine NC cells were isolated from six‐week post‐natal discs and cultured in vitro under varied conditions: (1) DMEM vs αMEM; (2) laminin‐521, fibronectin, gelatin and uncoated tissue culture‐treated polystyrene (TCP); (3) 2% O2 vs normoxia; (4) αMEM (300 mOsm/L) vs αMEM (400 mOsm/L); (5) surface stiffness of 0.5 kPa, 4kPa and standard TCP. Adherence, proliferation, morphology and expression of NC cell markers were assessed over a 14‐day culture period.


Native porcine nucleus pulposus tissue demonstrated similar morphology to human foetal tissue and porcine NC cells expressed known notochordal markers (CD24, KRT8, KRT18, KRT19, T). Use of αMEM media and laminin‐521‐coated surfaces showed the greatest cell adherence, proliferation and retention of NC cell morphology and phenotype. Proliferation of NC cell populations was further enhanced in hypoxia (2%) and phenotypic retention was improved on 0.5 kPa culture surfaces.


Our model has demonstrated an optimised system in which NC cell populations may be expanded while retaining a notochordal phenotype. Application of this optimised culture system will enable NC cell expansion for detailed phenotypic and functional study, a major advantage over current culture methods described in the literature. Furthermore, the similarities identified between porcine and human NC cells suggest this system will be applicable in human NC cell culture for investigation of their therapeutic potential.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJOR Spine
Early online date11 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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