Regenerative response of degenerate human nucleus pulposus cells to GDF6 stimulation

Thomas Hodgkinson, Hamish Gilbert, Tej Pandya, Ashish D. Diwan, Judith Hoyland, Stephen Richardson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Growth differentiation factor (GDF) family members have been implicated in the development and maintenance of healthy nucleus pulposus (NP) tissue, making them promising therapeutic candidates for treatment of intervertebral disc (IVD) degeneration and associated back pain. GDF6 has been shown to promote discogenic differentiation of mesenchymal stem cells, but its effect on NP cells remains largely unknown. Our aim was to investigate GDF6 signalling in adult human NP cells derived from degenerate tissue and determine the signal transduction pathways critical for GDF6-mediated phenotypic changes and tissue homeostatic mechanisms. This study demonstrates maintained expression of GDF6 receptors in human NP and AF cells across a range of degeneration grades at gene and protein level. We observed an anabolic response in NP cells treated with recombinant GDF6 (increased expression of matrix and NP-phenotypic markers; increased glycosaminoglycan production; no change in catabolic enzyme expression), and identified the signalling pathways involved in these responses (SMAD1/5/8 and ERK1/2 phosphorylation, validated by blocking studies). These findings suggest GDF6 promotes a healthy disc tissue phenotype in degenerate NP cells through SMAD-dependent and -independent (ERK1/2) mechanisms, which is important for development of GDF6 therapeutic strategies for treatment of degenerate discs.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number19
Publication statusPublished - 27 Sept 2020


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