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01.12.2015 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2015 Open Access

BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 1/2015

Identification and characterization of human nucleus pulposus cell specific serotypes of adeno-associated virus for gene therapeutic approaches of intervertebral disc disorders

BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders > Ausgabe 1/2015
Demissew S. Mern, Claudius Thomé
Wichtige Hinweise

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Authors’ contributions

DSM designed the study, preformed the experiments, analyzed the data, drafted and approved the manuscript. CT participated in the design and coordination of the study and approved the final manuscript.



Intervertebral disc (IVD) disorders are often accompanied by painful inflammatory and immunopathological processes. Nucleus pulposus (NP) cells play a pivotal role in maintenance of IVD by organizing the expression of anabolic, catabolic, anti-catabolic and inflammatory cytokines. Human NP cells have been targeted by gene therapeutic approaches using lentiviral or adenoviral systems that could be critical due to genome incorporation or immunological side effects. Adeno-associated viruses (AAVs), which do not express any viral gene and are not linked with any known disease in humans, are attractive gene delivery vectors. However, their lack of specific tissue tropism and preexisting immune response are main problems for therapeutic applications. Heretofore, AAVs have not been studied in human IVD research. Therefore, we attempted to identify NP cell specific AAV serotype by targeting human NP cells with different self-complementary AAV (scAAV) serotypes.
Identification and characterization of the proper serotype is crucial to establish less immunogenic and safer gene therapeutic approaches of IVD disorders.


Preoperative magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was used for grading of IVD degeneration. NP cells were isolated, cultured with low-glucose and transduced with green fluorescent protein (GFP) packing scAAV serotypes (scAAV1-8) in a dose-dependent manner. scAAV titers were determined by quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR). Transduction efficiencies were determined by fluorescence microscopy and fluorescence-activated cell sorting within 48 days of post-transduction. The 3-(4, 5-dimethylthiazolyl-2)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide (MTT) assay was used to determine NP cell viability. Three-dimensional (3D) cell culture and enzyme-linked immunosorbant assay (ELISA) were performed to examine the expression levels of inflammatory, catabolic and matrix proteins in NP cells.


scAAV6, scAAV2 and scAAV3 showed high and prolonged transgene GFP expressions with transdution efficiencies of 98.6 %, 91.5 % and 89.6 % respectively (p ≤ 0.002). Unlike scAAV6, the serotypes scAAV2 and scAAV3 declined the viability of NP cells by about 25 % and 10 % respectively (p ≤ 0.001). Moreover, scAAV6 did not affect the expression of the inflammatory, catabolic and matrix proteins.


As original primary research evaluating AAVs in degenerative human IVDs, this study identified scAAV6 as a proper serotype for high, stable and non-immunogenic target gene expression in human NP cells. The data could be very important to design efficient and safer gene therapeutic approaches of IVD disorders.
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