Heparan sulfate (HS) regulates diverse cell signalling events in intervertebral disc development and homeostasis. The aim of the present study was to investigate the effect of ablation of perlecan HS/CS on murine intervertebral disc development. Genetic models carrying mutations in genes encoding HS biosynthetic enzymes have identified multiple roles for HS in tissue homeostasis. In the present study, we utilised an Hspg2 exon 3 null HS/CS-deficient mouse to assess the role of perlecan HS in disc cell regulation. HS makes many important contributions to growth factor sequestration, stabilisation/delivery, and activation of receptors directing cellular proliferation, differentiation, and assembly of extracellular matrix. Perlecan HS/CS-mediated interactions promote extracellular matrix assembly/stabilisation and tissue functional properties, and thus, removal of perlecan HS/CS should affect extracellular matrix function and homeostasis. Hspg2 exon 3 null intervertebral discs accumulated significantly greater glycosaminoglycan in the nucleus pulposus, annulus fibrosus, and vertebral growth plates than C57BL/6 wild-type (WT) I intervertebral discs. Proliferation of intervertebral disc progenitor cells was significantly higher in Hspg2 exon 3 null intervertebral discs, and these cells became hypertrophic by 12 weeks of age and were prominent in the vertebral growth plates but had a disorganised organisation. C57BL/6 WT vertebral growth plates contained regular columnar growth plate chondrocytes. Exostosis-like, ectopic bone formation occurred in Hspg2 exon 3 null intervertebral discs, and differences were evident in disc cell maturation and in matrix deposition in this genotype, indicating that perlecan HS/CS chains had cell and matrix interactive properties which repressively maintained tissue homeostasis in the adult intervertebral disc.

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