Human notochordal cell transcriptome unveils potential regulators of cell function in the developing intervertebral disc

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • External authors:
  • Ricardo Rodrigues Pinto
  • Elizabeth Ward
  • Matthew Humphreys
  • Leo Zeef
  • Andrew Berry


The adult nucleus pulposus originates from the embryonic notochord, but loss of notochordal cells with skeletal maturity in humans is thought to contribute to the onset of intervertebral disc degeneration. Thus, defining the phenotype of human embryonic/fetal notochordal cells is essential for understanding their roles and for development of novel therapies. However, a detailed transcriptomic profiling of human notochordal cells has never been achieved. In this study, the notochord-specific marker CD24 was used to specifically label and isolate (using FACS) notochordal cells from human embryonic and fetal spines (7.5-14 weeks post-conception). Microarray analysis and qPCR validation identified CD24, STMN2, RTN1, PRPH, CXCL12, IGF1, MAP1B, ISL1, CLDN1 and THBS2 as notochord-specific markers. Expression of these markers was confirmed in nucleus pulposus cells from aged and degenerate discs. Ingenuity pathway analysis revealed molecules involved in inhibition of vascularisation (WISP2, Noggin and EDN2) and inflammation (IL1-RN) to be master regulators of notochordal genes. Importantly, this study has, for the first time, defined the human notochordal cell transcriptome and suggests inhibition of inflammation and vascularisation may be key roles for notochordal cells during intervertebral disc development. The molecules and pathways identified in this study have potential for use in developing strategies to retard/prevent disc degeneration, or regenerate tissue.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
JournalScientific Reports
Early online date27 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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