Degeneration of the intervertebral disc (IVD) is associated with significant biochemical and morphological changes that include a loss of disc height, decreased water content and decreased cellularity. Cell delivery has been widely explored as a strategy to supplement the nucleus pulposus (NP) region of the degenerated IVD in both pre-clinical and clinical trials, using progenitor or primary cell sources. We previously demonstrated an ability for a polymer-peptide hydrogel, serving as a culture substrate, to promote adult NP cells to undergo a shift from a degenerative fibroblast-like state to a juvenile-like NP phenotype. In the current study, we evaluate the ability for this peptide-functionalized hydrogel to serve as a bioactive system for cell delivery, retention and preservation of a biosynthetic phenotype for primary IVD cells delivered to the rat caudal disc in an anular puncture degeneration model. Our data suggest that encapsulation of adult degenerative human NP cells in a stiff formulation of the hydrogel functionalized with laminin-mimetic peptides IKVAV and AG73 can promote cell viability and increased biosynthetic activity for this population in 3D culture in vitro. Delivery of the peptide-functionalized biomaterial with primary rat cells to the degenerated IVD supported NP cell retention and NP-specific protein expression in vivo, and promoted improved disc height index (DHI) values and endplate organization compared to untreated degenerated controls. The results of this study suggest the physical cues of this peptide-functionalized hydrogel can serve as a supportive carrier for cell delivery to the IVD. Statement of significance: Cell delivery into the degenerative intervertebral disc has been widely explored as a strategy to supplement the nucleus pulposus. The current work seeks to employ a biomaterial functionalized with laminin-mimetic peptides as a cell delivery scaffold in order to improve cell retention rates within the intradiscal space, while providing the delivered cells with biomimetic cues in order to promote phenotypic expression and increase biosynthetic activity. The use of the in situ crosslinkable material integrated with the native IVD, presenting a system with adequate physical properties to support a degenerative disc.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-127
Number of pages11
JournalActa Biomaterialia
StatePublished - Sep 1 2021


  • 3D cell culture
  • Cell adhesive mimetic peptide
  • In vivo
  • Nucleus pulposus


Dive into the research topics of 'Bioactive in situ crosslinkable polymer-peptide hydrogel for cell delivery to the intervertebral disc in a rat model'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this