Mechanotransduction and cell biomechanics of the intervertebral disc

Bailey V. Fearing, Paula A. Hernandez, Lori A. Setton, Nadeen O. Chahine

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


Mechanical loading of the intervertebral disc (IVD) initiates cell-mediated remodeling events that contribute to disc degeneration. Cells of the IVD, nucleus pulposus (NP) and anulus fibrosus (AF), will exhibit various responses to different mechanical stimuli which appear to be highly dependent on loading type, magnitude, duration, and anatomic zone of cell origin. Cells of the NP, the innermost region of the disc, exhibit an anabolic response to low-moderate magnitudes of static compression, osmotic pressure, or hydrostatic pressure, while higher magnitudes promote a catabolic response marked by increased protease expression and activity. Cells of the outer AF are responsive to physical forces in a manner that depends on frequency and magnitude, as are cells of the NP, though they experience different forces, deformations, pressure, and osmotic pressure in vivo. Much remains to be understood of the mechanotransduction pathways that regulate IVD cell responses to loading, including responses to specific stimuli and also differences among cell types. There is evidence that cytoskeletal remodeling and receptor-mediated signaling are important mechanotransduction events that can regulate downstream effects like gene expression and posttranslational biosynthesis, all of which may influence phenotype and bioactivity. These and other mechanotransduction events will be regulated by known and to-be-discovered cell-matrix and cell-cell interactions, and depend on composition of extracellular matrix ligands for cell interaction, matrix stiffness, and the phenotype of the cells themselves. Here, we present a review of the current knowledge of the role of mechanical stimuli and the impact upon the cellular response to loading and changes that occur with aging and degeneration of the IVD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1026
JournalJOR Spine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2018


  • biomechanics
  • degeneration
  • extracellular matrix
  • mechanobiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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