The Inner Annulus Fibrosus Encroaches on the Nucleus Pulposus in the Injured Mouse Tail Intervertebral Disc

Yulong Wei, Zuozhen Tian, Robert J. Tower, Sarah E. Gullbrand, Lutian Yao, Snehal S. Shetye, Robert L. Mauck, Ling Qin, Yejia Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Objective The aim was to identify the source of cells within the center of the abnormal fibrocartilage tissue of the degenerative intervertebral disc after injury. Design Cross-breeding of mice with an inducible type II promoter collagen construct (Col2CreER) to Rosa26-TdTomato mice has been shown to result in Cre-recombinase activity and Tomato expression in inner annulus fibrosus cells after tamoxifen injection. To investigate the role of the inner annulus fibrosus in the intervertebral disc injury response, tail intervertebral discs of Col2CreER/tdTomato mice were punctured with a needle and examined 1-4 wks after injury. N-cadherin was examined by immunostaining. Results After the injury, the fibrocartilage in the degenerative intervertebral disc consisted of residual diseased nucleus pulposus cells and encroaching inner annulus fibrosus cells. The residual nucleus pulposus cells had lost their epithelial cell-like morphology and instead became oval shaped, with reduced adhesion to neighboring nucleus pulposus cells. This change in cellular morphology coincided with a loss of N-cadherin, which contributes to maintenance of healthy nucleus pulposus cell morphology. As expected, injured tail intervertebral discs showed reduced compressive properties as determined by biomechanical assessments. Conclusions The cellular composition of the degenerative intervertebral disc has been defined here, which is an important step in developing future treatments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)450-457
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Injury Model
  • Intervertebral Disc
  • Lineage Tracing
  • Mouse Model
  • Type II Collagen (COL2)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rehabilitation
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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