Serum and nutrient deprivation increase autophagic flux in intervertebral disc annulus fibrosus cells: an in vitro experimental study

Takashi Yurube, William J. Buchser, Hong Joo Moon, Robert A. Hartman, Koji Takayama, Yohei Kawakami, Kotaro Nishida, Masahiro Kurosaka, Nam V. Vo, James D. Kang, Michael T. Lotze, Gwendolyn A. Sowa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Purpose: The loss of nutrient supply is a suspected contributor of intervertebral disc degeneration. However, the extent to which low nutrition affects disc annulus fibrosus (AF) cells is unknown as nutrient deprivation has mainly been investigated in disc nucleus pulposus cells. Hence, an experimental study was designed to clarify the effects of limited nutrients on disc AF cell fate, including autophagy, the process by which cells recycle their own damaged components. Methods: Rabbit disc AF cells were cultured in different media with varying serum concentrations under 5% oxygen. Cellular responses to changes in serum and nutrient concentrations were determined by measuring proliferation and metabolic activity. Autophagic flux in AF cells was longitudinally monitored using imaging cytometry and Western blotting for LC3, HMGB1, and p62/SQSTM1. Apoptosis (TUNEL staining and cleaved caspase-3 immunodetection) and cellular senescence (senescence-associated β-galactosidase assay and p16/INK4A immunodetection) were measured. Results: Markers of apoptosis and senescence increased, while cell proliferation and metabolic activity decreased under the withdrawal of serum and of nutrients other than oxygen, confirming cellular stress. Time-dependent increases in autophagy markers, including LC3 puncta number per cell, LC3-II expression, and cytoplasmic HMGB1, were observed under conditions of reduced nutrition, while an autophagy substrate, p62/SQSTM1, decreased over time. Collectively, these findings suggest increased autophagic flux in disc AF cells under serum and nutrient deprivation. Conclusion: Disc AF cells exhibit distinct responses to serum and nutrient deprivation. Cellular responses include cell death and quiescence in addition to reduced proliferation and metabolic activity, as well as activation of autophagy under conditions of nutritional stress. Graphical abstract: These slides can be retrieved under Electronic Supplementary Material.[Figure not available: see fulltext.].

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)993-1004
Number of pages12
JournalEuropean Spine Journal
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2019


  • Annulus fibrosus (AF) cells
  • Apoptosis
  • Autophagy
  • Intervertebral disc
  • Senescence
  • Serum and nutrient deprivation


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