The aim of this study was to identify differentially expressed genes (DEGs) in disc degeneration, analyze the potential biological functions of DEGs, and screen for a new target to prevent the degeneration.
Summary of Background Data.
Intervertebral disc degeneration (IDD) is an irreversible process and causes long-term heavy socioeconomic burdens. Existing and therapies under development are unable to prevent disc degeneration in a safe and effective manner. Therefore, elucidating the potential mechanism underlying degeneration and the development of new targets for IDD therapy are urgently required.
Nucleus pulposus (NP) cells from mild and severe IDD (Ctrl and IDD groups) were separated, and DEGs of the two groups were identified with mRNA microarray analysis, followed by bioinformatics analysis.
Quantitative reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR) was performed to verify the microarray results. Gene over-expression and silencing technologies were used to study the role of plant homeodomain finger protein 6 (PHF6). qRT-PCR and western blot analyses were used to detect the expressions of collagen II (COL2), matrix metalloproteinases 13 (MMP13), and ADAM metallopeptidase with thrombospondin type 1 motif 4 (ADAMTS4).
The study identified 377 up- and 116 downregulated DEGs in NP cells from two groups. These DEGs were mainly involved in cellular and metabolic processes and enriched in immune system and nucleotide metabolism pathways. Upregulated PHF6, with the highest verified fold change, was significantly increased in the IDD group. Over-expressing PHF6 in Ctrl NP cells significantly inhibited the expression of COL2 and enhanced the expressions of MMP13 and ADAMTS4, whereas silencing PHF6 in IDD NP cells reversed such expression alterations.
Upregulated PHF6 caused IDD by promoting extracellular matrix degradation; therefore, PHF6 could be developed as a potential novel target to prevent the degeneration. Our DEG profiling of NP cells from IDD patients provided a database to identify the key genes involved in IDD.
Level of Evidence.