3 years ago

Link-N: The missing link towards intervertebral disc repair is species-specific

Björn P. Meij, Keita Ito, Laura B. Creemers, Frances C. Bach, Lisanne T. Laagland, Michael P. Grant, Fackson Mwale, Marianna A. Tryfonidou

Degeneration of the intervertebral disc (IVD) is a frequent cause for back pain in humans and dogs. Link-N stabilizes proteoglycan aggregates in cartilaginous tissues and exerts growth factor-like effects. The human variant of Link-N facilitates IVD regeneration in several species in vitro by inducing Smad1 signaling, but it is not clear whether this is species specific. Dogs with IVD disease could possibly benefit from Link-N treatment, but Link-N has not been tested on canine IVD cells. If Link-N appears to be effective in canines, this would facilitate translation of Link-N into the clinic using the dog as an in vivo large animal model for human IVD degeneration.

Materials and methods

This study’s objective was to determine the effect of the human and canine variant of Link-N and short (s) Link-N on canine chondrocyte-like cells (CLCs) and compare this to those on already studied species, i.e. human and bovine CLCs. Extracellular matrix (ECM) production was determined by measuring glycosaminoglycan (GAG) content and histological evaluation. Additionally, the micro-aggregates’ DNA content was measured. Phosphorylated (p) Smad1 and -2 levels were determined using ELISA.


Human (s)Link-N induced GAG deposition in human and bovine CLCs, as expected. In contrast, canine (s)Link-N did not affect ECM production in human CLCs, while it mainly induced collagen type I and II deposition in bovine CLCs. In canine CLCs, both canine and human (s)Link-N induced negligible GAG deposition. Surprisingly, human and canine (s)Link-N did not induce Smad signaling in human and bovine CLCs. Human and canine (s)Link-N only mildly increased pSmad1 and Smad2 levels in canine CLCs.


Human and canine (s)Link-N exerted species-specific effects on CLCs from early degenerated IVDs. Both variants, however, lacked the potency as canine IVD regeneration agent. While these studies demonstrate the challenges of translational studies in large animal models, (s)Link-N still holds a regenerative potential for humans.

Publisher URL: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0187831

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