Low back pain is experienced by a large number of people in western countries and may be caused and influenced by many different pathologies and psychosocial factors including disc degeneration. Disc degeneration involves the increased expression of proinflammatory cytokines and matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) in the disc environment, which leads to the loss of extracellular matrix (ECM) and the viability of the native disc cells (DCs). Treatment approaches using growth factors and cell therapy have been proposed due to the compelling results that growth factors and mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) can influence the degenerated discs. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of conditioned media (CM) from human MSCs (hMSCs) and connective tissue growth factor (CTGF) and TGF-β on disc cells, and hMSCs isolated from patients with degenerative discs and severe low back pain. The aim was also to examine the constituents of CM in order to study the peptides that could bring about intervertebral disc (IVD) regeneration. DCs and hMSC pellets (approx.. 200,000 cells) were cultured and stimulated with hMSC-derived CM or CTGF and TGF-β over 28 days. The effects of CM and CTGF on DCs and hMSCs were assessed via cell viability, proteoglycan production, the expression of ECM proteins, and chondrogenesis in 3D pellet culture. To identify the constituents of CM, CM was analyzed with tandem mass spectrometry. The findings indicate that CM enhanced the cellular viability and ECM production of DCs while CTGF and the control exhibited nonsignificant differences. The same was observed in the hMSC group. Mass spectrometry analysis of CM identified >700 peptides, 129 of which showed a relative abundance of ≥2 (CTGF among them). The results suggest that CM holds potential to counter the progression of disc degeneration, likely resulting from the combination of all the substances released by the hMSCs. The soluble factors released belong to different peptide families. The precise mechanism underlying the regenerative effect needs to be investigated further, prior to incorporating peptides in the development of new treatment strategies for low back pain that is potentially caused by IVD degeneration.
© 2020 The Author(s) Published by S. Karger AG, Basel.