Object. Systemic nicotine has been hypothesized to cause degeneration of the intervertebral disc which in turn decreases vascular supply to the disc through a cholinergic receptor—mediated process. Another possible mechanism may be through direct regulatory effects on disc cells. In this study, the authors tested the hypothesis that nicotine adversely affects nucleus pulposus cells by directly inhibiting proteoglycan synthesis and gene expression of type II collagen (Phase I study). They also assessed the hypothesis that nicotine inhibits the bone morphogenetic protein (BMP)—2-induced upregulation of extracellular matrix (Phase II study).
Methods. Cells were isolated from nucleus pulposus obtained in rat lumbar discs and cultured on a monolayer. Media were treated with nicotine and/or recombinant human (rh)BMP-2 for 7 days. Sulfated glycosaminoglycan (SO4-GAG) in media was quantified using 1,9-dimethylmethylene blue (DMMB) assay. Gene assay of types I and II collagen, Sox9, and glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase were quantified using reverse transcriptase—polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and real time PCR. In the Phase I study, nicotine-treated (100 µg/ml) and nontreated cells were compared. The s-GAG production and messenger RNA (mRNA) of type II collagen and Sox9 decreased significantly in the nicotine-treated group. In the Phase II study, five groups were compared: 1) nontreatment; 2) rhBMP-2 only (100 ng/ml); and 3–5) with rhBMP-2 (100 ng/ml) and increasing doses of nicotine (1 [third group], 10, [fourth group], 100 [fifth group] µg/ml). The SO4-GAG production and mRNA of type II collagen and Sox9 decreased significantly in the groups treated with rhBMP-2 combined with 10 and 100 µg/ml of nicotine compared with the group treated with rhBMP-2.
Conclusions. The results of this study raise the possibility that nicotine may contribute to the process of disc degeneration by a direct effect on the nucleus pulposus cells, possibly by antagonizing the effect of BMP-2.