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Disruption of the thrombospondin-2 gene alters the lamellar morphology but does not permit vascularization of the adult mouse lumbar disc

Helen E Gruber1*, Paul Bornstein2, E Helene Sage3, Jane A Ingram1, Natalia Zinchenko1, H James Norton4 and Edward N Hanley1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Carolinas Medical Center, PO Box 32861, Charlotte, NC 28232, USA

2 Departments of Medicine and Biochemistry, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA

3 Hope Heart Program, The Benaroya Institute at Virginia Mason, 1201 Ninth Avenue, Seattle, WA 98101-2795, USA

4 Department of Biostatistics, Carolinas Medical Center, PO Box 332861, Charlotte, NC 28232, USA

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2008, 10:R96  doi:10.1186/ar2483

Published: 21 August 2008



The biological basis for the avascular state of the intervertebral disc is not well understood. Previous work has suggested that the presence of thrombospondin-1 (TSP-1), a matricellular protein, in the outer annulus reflects a role for this protein in conferring an avascular status to the disc. In the present study we have examined thrombospondin-2 (TSP-2), a matricellular protein with recognized anti-angiogenic activity in vivo and in vitro.


We examined both the location and expression of TSP-2 in the human disc, and its location in the disc and bordering soft tissues of 5-month-old normal wild-type (WT) mice and of mice with a targeted disruption of the TSP-2 gene. Immunohistochemistry and quantitative histology were utilized in this study.


TSP-2 was found to be present in some, but not all, annulus cells of the human annulus and the mouse annulus. Although there was no difference in the number of disc cells in the annulus of TSP-2-null mice compared with that of WT animals, polarized light microscopy revealed a more irregular lamellar collagen structure in null mouse discs compared with WT mouse discs. Additionally, vascular beds at the margins of discs of TSP-2-null mice were substantially more irregular than those of WT animals. Counts of platelet endothelial cell adhesion molecule-1-positive blood vessels in the tissue margin bordering the ventral annulus showed a significantly larger vascular bed in the tissue bordering the disc of TSP-2-null mice compared with that of WT mice (P = 0.0002). There was, however, no vascular ingrowth into discs of the TSP-2-null mice.


These data confirm a role for TSP-2 in the morphology of the disc and suggest the presence of other inhibitors of angiogenesis in the disc. We have shown that although an increase in vasculature was present in the TSP-2-null tissue in the margin of the disc, vascular ingrowth into the body of the disc did not occur. Our results point to the need for future research to understand the transition from the well-vascularized status of the fetal and young discs to the avascular state of the adult human disc or the small mammalian disc.