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Action of fibroblast growth factor-2 on the intervertebral disc

Xin Li1, Howard S An2, Michael Ellman12, Frank Phillips2, Eugene J Thonar123, Daniel K Park2, Ranjith K Udayakumar12 and Hee-Jeong Im123*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biochemistry, Rush University Medical Center, Cohn Research BD 516, 1735 W. Harrison, Chicago, IL 60612, USA

2 Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, IL 60612, USA

3 Department of Internal Medicine, Section of Rheumatology, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, IL 60612, USA

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2008, 10:R48  doi:10.1186/ar2407

Published: 24 April 2008



Fibroblast growth factor 2 (FGF2) is a growth factor that is immediately released after cartilage injury and plays a pivotal role in cartilage homeostasis. In human adult articular cartilage, FGF2 mediates anti-anabolic and potentially catabolic effects via the suppression of proteoglycan (PG) production along with the upregulation of matrix-degrading enzyme activity. The aim of the present study was to determine the biological effects of FGF2 in spine disc cells and to elucidate the complex biochemical pathways utilized by FGF2 in bovine intervertebral disc (IVD) cells in an attempt to further understand the pathophysiologic processes involved in disc degeneration.


We studied the effect of FGF2 on IVD tissue homeostasis by assessing MMP-13 expression (potent matrix-degrading enzyme), PG accumulation, and PG synthesis in the bovine spine IVD, as well as evaluating whether FGF2 counteracts known anabolic factors such as BMP7. To understand the molecular mechanisms by which FGF2 antagonizes BMP7 activity, we also investigated the signaling pathways utilized by FGF2 in bovine disc tissue.


The primary receptor expressed in bovine nucleus pulposus cartilage is FGFR1, and this receptor is upregulated in degenerative human IVD tissue compared with normal IVD tissue. Stimulation of bovine nucleus pulposus cells cultured in monolayer with FGF2 augmented the production of MMP-13 at the transcriptional and translational level in a dose-dependent manner. Stimulation of bovine nucleus pulposus cells cultured in alginate beads for 21 days with FGF2 resulted in a dose-dependent decrease in PG accumulation, due at least in part to the inhibition of PG synthesis. Further studies demonstrate that FGF2 (10 ng/ml) antagonizes BMP7-mediated acceleration of PG production in bovine nucleus pulposus cells via the upregulation of noggin, an inhibitor of the transforming growth factor beta/bone morphogenetic protein signaling pathway. Chemical inhibitor studies showed that FGF2 utilizes the mitogen-activated protein kinase and NF-κB pathways to upregulate noggin, serving as one potential mechanism for its anti-anabolic effects.


FGF2 is anti-anabolic in bovine spine disc cells, revealing the potential of FGF2 antagonists as unique biologic treatments for both prevention and reversal of IVD degeneration.