A protein found in the zebrafish spine that plays a positive role in disc maintenance and promotes regeneration in aged intervertebral discs may have potential therapeutic implications for promoting regeneration in degenerated human discs. In humans, the discs naturally degenerate, leading to many related health problems, including low back, neck, and appendix pain. Currently, only symptomatic treatment for disc degeneration is available, including pain relievers or anti-inflammatory drugs.
In severe cases, disc replacement or disc fusion surgery is performed. Thus, there is an urgent need to develop treatments that either suppress disc degeneration or promote disc regeneration in humans. Medical examinations have provided insight into the stages of human disc degeneration, but limited information is available on the cellular and molecular processes involved in disc maintenance. Most importantly, there were no known medical procedures or treatments to suppress disc degeneration or induce disc regeneration.
A study by the Agharkar Research Institute (ARI), Pune, an autonomous institute of the Department of Science and Technology, found that a protein called cell communication network factor 2a (Ccn2a) secreted by intervertebral disc cells induces disc regeneration in old degenerated discs by promoting cell proliferation and cell survival by modulating a pathway called FGFR1-SHH (Fibroblast Growth Factor Receptor-Sonic Hedgehog).
The study, which used Zebrafish as a model organism, is the first in vivo study to show that it is possible to induce disc regeneration in a degenerated disc by activating an endogenous signaling cascade. The researchers also found that the Ccn2a-FGFR1-SHH signaling cascade plays a positive role in disc maintenance and promoting disc regeneration. The study, published in the journal Development, used genetic and biochemical approaches and is likely to help design a new strategy to suppress disc degeneration or induce disc regeneration in degenerated human discs.