Intervertebral disc (IVD) degeneration is characterized by a loss of cellularity, and changes in cell-mediated activity that drives anatomic changes to IVD structure. In this study, we used single-cell RNA-sequencing analysis of degenerating tissues of the rat IVD following lumbar disc puncture. Two control, uninjured IVDs (L2-3, L3-4) and two degenerated, injured IVDs (L4-5, L5-6) from each animal were examined either at the two- or eight-week post-operative time points. The cells from these IVDs were extracted and transcriptionally profiled at the single-cell resolution. Unsupervised cluster analysis revealed the presence of four known cell types in both non-degenerative and degenerated IVDs based on previously established gene markers: IVD cells, endothelial cells, myeloid cells, and lymphoid cells. As a majority of cells were associated with the IVD cell cluster, sub-clustering was used to further identify the cell populations of the nucleus pulposus, inner and outer annulus fibrosus. The most notable difference between control and degenerated IVDs was the increase of myeloid and lymphoid cells in degenerated samples at two- and eight-weeks post-surgery. Differential gene expression analysis revealed multiple distinct cell types from the myeloid and lymphoid lineages, most notably macrophages and B lymphocytes, and demonstrated a high degree of immune specificity during degeneration. In addition to the heterogenous infiltrating immune cell populations in the degenerating IVD, the increased number of cells in the AF sub-cluster expressing Ngf and Ngfr, encoding for p75NTR, suggest that NGF signaling may be one of the key mediators of the IVD crosstalk between immune and neuronal cell populations. These findings provide the basis for future work to understand the involvement of select subsets of non-resident cells in IVD degeneration.
- cell type
- intervertebral disc degeneration
- single-cell RNA sequencing