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IL-1ra delivered from poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) microspheres attenuates IL-1β-mediated degradation of nucleus pulposus in vitro

Deborah J Gorth12, Robert L Mauck12, Joseph A Chiaro12, Bhavana Mohanraj1, Nader M Hebela2, George R Dodge12, Dawn M Elliott3 and Lachlan J Smith12*

Author affiliations

1 Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, 424 Stemmler Hall, 3450 Hamilton Walk, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA

2 Veterans Affairs Medical Center, 3900 Woodland Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA

3 Department of Biomedical Engineering, College of Engineering, University of Delaware, 125 E Delaware Avenue, Newark, DE 19716, USA

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Citation and License

Arthritis Research & Therapy 2012, 14:R179  doi:10.1186/ar3932

Published: 3 August 2012



Inflammation plays a key role in the progression of intervertebral disc degeneration, a condition strongly implicated as a cause of lower back pain. The objective of this study was to investigate the therapeutic potential of poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) (PLGA) microspheres loaded with interleukin-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1ra) for sustained attenuation of interleukin-1 beta (IL-1β) mediated degradative changes in the nucleus pulposus (NP), using an in vitro model.


IL-1ra was encapsulated in PLGA microspheres and release kinetics were determined over 35 days. NP agarose constructs were cultured to functional maturity and treated with combinations of IL-1β and media conditioned with IL-1ra released from microspheres at intervals for up to 20 days. Construct mechanical properties, glycosaminoglycan content, nitrite production and mRNA expression of catabolic mediators were compared to properties for untreated constructs using unpaired Student's t-tests.


IL-1ra release kinetics were characterized by an initial burst release reducing to a linear release over the first 10 days. IL-1ra released from microspheres attenuated the degradative effects of IL-1β as defined by mechanical properties, glycosaminoglycans (GAG) content, nitric oxide production and mRNA expression of inflammatory mediators for 7 days, and continued to limit functional degradation for up to 20 days.


In this study, we successfully demonstrated that IL-1ra microspheres can attenuate the degradative effects of IL-1β on the NP for extended periods. This therapeutic strategy may be appropriate for treating early-stage, cytokine-mediated disc degeneration. Ongoing studies are focusing on testing IL-1ra microspheres in an in vivo model of disc degeneration, as a prelude to clinical translation.