Inflammatory cytokines are involved in intervertebral disc (IVD) degeneration. Endothelin-1 (ET-1), a 21-amino-acid cytokine implicated with cartilage degradation, is secreted by vascular endothelial cells and also by many other cell types. The expression of ET-1 in human IVD cartilage endplate (CEP) and its role in disc degeneration have not been explored.
The expression of ET-1 in degenerated CEP was analyzed by immunohistochemical staining and Western blotting; ET-1 was demonstrated in cartilaginous endplate cells (CECs) by immunofluorescent staining. The ET-1 mRNA expression and protein production by CECs stimulated by tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α), a pro-inflammatory cytokine, were determined by real-time PCR analysis and Western blotting, respectively. The matrix metalloprotease-1 (MMP-1), MMP-13 and tissue inhibitor of metalloproteases-1 (TIMP-1) levels in the supernatant of cultured CECs treated with ET-1 were determined using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays. Nitric oxide (NO) release and nitric oxide synthase (NOS) activity were measured using a spectrophotometric assay. The apoptosis of CECs by ET-1 was measured by an Annexin V-FITC detection assay. The production of ET-1 in degenerated cartilage endplate was significantly higher than normal CEP. The results showed that ET-1 was expressed by CECs and modulated by TNF-α in a dose-dependent manner. ET-1 increased production of MMP-1 and MMP-13, decreased TIMP-1 production, and induced NO and NOS release by cultured CECs. The direct stimulation of CECs by ET-1 did not promote cell apoptosis.
The study results suggest that ET-1 played a pivotal role in human CEP degeneration, and may be a new target for development of therapies for this condition.