Intervertebral disc (IVD) disorders are a major contributor to disability and societal health care costs. Nucleus pulposus (NP) cells of the IVD exhibit changes in both phenotype and morphology with aging-related IVD degeneration that may impact the onset and progression of IVD pathology. Studies have demonstrated that immature NP cell interactions with their extracellular matrix (ECM) may be key regulators of cellular phenotype, metabolism and morphology. The objective of this article is to review our recent experience with studies of NP cell-ECM interactions that reveal how ECM cues can be manipulated to promote an immature NP cell phenotype and morphology. Findings demonstrate the importance of a soft (<700 Pa), laminin-containing ECM in regulating healthy, immature NP cells. Knowledge of NP cell-ECM interactions can be used for development of tissue engineering or cell delivery strategies to treat IVD-related disorders.

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