header advert
Orthopaedic Proceedings Logo

Receive monthly Table of Contents alerts from Orthopaedic Proceedings

Comprehensive article alerts can be set up and managed through your account settings

View my account settings

Visit Orthopaedic Proceedings at:



Full Access



8th Combined Meeting Of Orthopaedic Research Societies (CORS)



Cytokines produced within the degenerate disc induce expression of neurotrophic factors and pain related peptides which could be important in nerve ingrowth and pain sensitisation leading to low back pain.

The intervertebral disc (IVD) is considered the largest aneural and avascular structure within the human body, yet during degeneration vascularisation of the IVD is seen to be accompanied by nociceptive nerves. Low back pain is a highly debilitating condition affecting around 80% of the population, 40% of which are attributed to IVD degeneration. Discogenic pain was largely thought to be a result of irritation and compression of the nerve root, yet recent data suggests that pain may be attributed to the sensitisation of sensory nerves by the synthesis of pain related peptides, calcitonin gene related peptide (CGRP) and substance P. It is known that cytokines and chemokines produced by nucleus pulposus cells elicit various effects including the production of matrix degrading enzymes, and decreased matrix molecules. Here, we investigate the hypothesis that cytokines regulate both neurotrophic factor and pain related peptide synthesis within nucleus pulposus and nerve cells which may elicit algesic effects.

Real-Time PCR was performed to investigate gene expression of the neurotrophic factors NGF, BDNF, NT3 and their receptors Trk A, B and C along with Substance P and CGRP on directly extracted RNA from human NP cells and NP cells cultured in alginate for 2 weeks prior to treatment for 48hours with IL-1, IL-6 or TNFα at 0–100ng/mL. Similarly SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cells were differentiated in retinoic acid for 7 days prior to stimulation with IL-1, IL-6 or TNFα at 0ng/mL and 10ng/mL for 48hours. Immunohistochemistry was used to localise neurotrophic factor receptors Trk A, B and C in both degenerate discs and neuronal cells.

NGF expression was present in normal and degenerate disc samples, however only degenerate discs expressed the high affinity receptor TrkA. Similarly Trk B was present in 22% of normal samples increasing to 100% expression within degenerate disc samples. All cytokines increased expression of NGF in NP cells (P≤0.05). TNFα also increased BDNF significantly, whereas no significant affects were seen in NT3 expression in NP cells. Trk B expression was significantly increased by IL-1 and TNFα treatment of NP cells. Conversely Trk C was down regulated by IL-6. Substance P was significantly increased by IL-1 and TNFα treatments whilst IL-6 and TNFα increased CGRP expression in NP cells. In SH-SY5Y cells, IL-1 significantly increased BDNF whilst IL-6 and TNFα failed to induce significant differences in neurotrophic factors. All cytokines increased Trk expression in the nerve cell line; however this failed to reach significance. Immunohistochemistry confirmed the presence of Trk receptors within the neuronal cell line.

Here we have demonstrated that a number of cytokines known to be up regulated during disc degeneration and disc prolapse, induce expression of various neurotrophic factors, their receptors and pain related peptides within human NP cells, as well as SH-SY5Y cells. This data suggests that the presence and production of cytokines within the degenerate disc may be responsible for nerve ingrowth and sensitisation of nerves which may result in discogenic pain.