The nucleus pulposus microenvironment in the intervertebral disc: the fountain of youth?
The intervertebral disc (IVD) is a complex tissue, and its degeneration remains a problem for patients, without significant improvement in treatment strategies. This mostly age-related disease predominantly affects the nucleus pulposus (NP), the central region of the IVD. The NP tissue, and especially its microenvironment, exhibit changes that may be involved at the outset or affect the progression of IVD pathology. The NP tissue microenvironment is unique and can be defined by a variety of
... ific factors and components characteristic of its physiology and function. NP progenitor cell interactions with their surrounding microenvironment may be a key factor for the regulation of cellular metabolism, phenotype, and stemness. Recently, celltransplantation approaches have been investigated for the treatment of degenerative disc disease, highlighting the need to better understand if and how transplanted cells can give rise to healthy NP tissue. Hence, understanding all the components of the NP microenvironment seems to be critical to better gauge the success and outcomes of approaches for tissue engineering and future clinical applications. Knowledge about the components of the NP microenvironment, how NP progenitor cells interact with them, and how changes in their surroundings can alter their function is summarised. Recent discoveries in NP tissue engineering linked to the microenvironment are also reviewed, meaning how crosstalk within the microenvironment can be adjusted to promote NP regeneration. Associated clinical problems are also considered, connecting bench-to-bedside in the context of IVD degeneration.