Intervertebral disc degeneration proceeds with age and is one of the major causes of lumbar pain and degenerative lumbar spine diseases. However, studies in the field of intervertebral disc biology have been hampered by the lack of reliable cell lines that can be used for in vitro assays. In this study, we show that a chordoma-derived cell line U-CH1-N cells highly express the nucleus pulposus (NP) marker genes, including T (encodes T brachyury transcription factor), KRT19, and CD24. These observations were further confirmed by immunocytochemistry and flow cytometry. Reporter analyses showed that transcriptional activity of T was enhanced in U-CH1-N cells. Chondrogenic capacity of U-CH1-N cells was verified by evaluating the expression of extracellular matrix (ECM) genes and Alcian blue staining. Of note, we found that proliferation and synthesis of chondrogenic ECM proteins were largely dependent on T in U-CH1-N cells. In accordance, knockdown of the T transcripts suppressed the expression of PCNA, a gene essential for DNA replication, and SOX5 and SOX6, the master regulators of chondrogenesis. On the other hand, the CD24-silenced cells showed no reduction in the mRNA expression level of the chondrogenic ECM genes. These results suggest that U-CH1-N shares important biological properties with notochordal NP cells and that T plays crucial roles in maintaining the notochordal NP cell-like phenotype in this cell line. Taken together, our data indicate that U-CH1-N may serve as a useful tool in studying the biology of intervertebral disc.
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