Hai Wang, Yue Zhou, Tong-Wei Chu, Chang-Qing Li, Jian Wang, Zheng-Feng Zhang, Bo Huang

September 2016, Volume 25, Issue 9, pp 2691 - 2704 Original Article Read Full Article 10.1007/s00586-016-4522-4

First Online: 16 March 2016


Several types of stem cells have been successfully demonstrated to exist in the human degenerated intervertebral disc (IVD), which is composed of annulus fibrosus (AF), nucleus pulposus (NP) and cartilage endplate (CEP). However, the differences in the biological characteristics among these and bone marrow derived mesenchymal stem cells (BM-MSCs) remain unclear.

Materials and methods

To investigate this issue, cells were harvested from human AF, NP, CEP, and bone marrow, respectively; passage 2 cells were selected using the agarose suspension culture system to obtain stem cell clones. Following expansion in vitro, stem cells from different anatomical regions were compared regarding the morphology, proliferation ability, immunophenotypic expression, and multi-lineage differentiation capacity. In addition, stem cell-alginate bead compositions were constructed for the comparison of DNA and sGAG content.


There were subtle differences regarding cell morphology, but no significant differences in proliferation ability among the four types of stem cells. For the immunophenotypic analysis, all stem cells basically fulfilled the criteria for mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), which have been published by the International Society for Cellular Therapy (ISCT), with a significant difference in CD105 expression. A comparison of the osteogenic capacities indicated: cartilage endplate-derived stem cells (CESCs) > annulus fibrosus-derived stem cells (AFSCs) > BM-MSCs > nucleus pulposus-derived stem cells (NPSCs). The chondrogenesis difference was similar to osteogenesis. For adipogenesis: BM-MSCs >NPSCs >CESCs >AFSCs. In the stem cell/alginate composition, the CESCs consistently showed the superior chondrogenic potential among all those cell types.


Our data indicated that all the four types of stem cells shared some similar biological properties (regarding shape, proliferation ability and immunophenotypic expression). CESCs, which had the strongest osteogenic and chondrogenic potentials, may serve as excellent seed cells for NP/cartilage or bone tissue engineering.

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