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Open Access Research article

Autophagy in rat annulus fibrosus cells: evidence and possible implications

Chao Shen, Jun Yan, Lei-Sheng Jiang and Li-Yang Dai*

Author Affiliations

Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Xinhua Hospital, 1665 Kongjiang Road, 200092, Shanghai, China

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2011, 13:R132  doi:10.1186/ar3443

Published: 16 August 2011

Abstract

Introduction

Programmed cell death of intervertebral disc (IVD) cells plays an important role in IVD degeneration, but the role of autophagy, a closely related cell death event, in IVD cells has not been documented. The current study was designed to investigate the effect of interleukin (IL)-1β on the occurrence of autophagy of rat annulus fibrosus (AF) cells and the interrelationship between autophagy and apoptosis.

Methods

Rat AF cells were isolated and exposed, in tissue cultures with or without serum, to IL-1β in different concentrations for 24 hours. Ultrastructural analysis, flow cytometry and lysosomal activity assessment were performed after the in vitro treatment to determine the presence and levels of autophagy. The mRNA expression of autophagy-related proteins (Beclin-1, Bcl-2 and microtubule associated protein 1 light chain 3 (LC3)) were evaluated using real-time PCR. 3-methyladenine (3-MA), a PI3K inhibitor, was used to determine the interaction between autophagy and apoptosis via the suppression of autophagy.

Results

Autophagy was detected in rat AF cells under serum starvation condition by transmission electron microscopy. PCR and flow cytometry results showed that IL-1β enhanced the autophagy-induction effect of serum deprivation in a dose-dependent manner. However, IL-1β alone failed to induce autophagy in AF cells cultured without serum starvation. When autophagy was suppressed by 3-MA, the apoptosis incidence was increased. Serum supplement also partly reversed the autophagy incidence without affecting the apoptosis incidence in the same cells.

Conclusions

IL-1β up-regulates serum deprivation-induced autophagy of AF cells in a dose-dependent manner. Autophagy may represent a protective mechanism against apoptosis in AF cells and IVD degeneration.

Keywords:
Intervertebral disc; Autophagy; Apoptosis; Interleukin-1β; Serum deprivation