The Potential of N-Rich Plasma-Polymerized Ethylene (PPE:N) Films for Regulating the Phenotype of the Nucleus Pulposus

Fackson Mwale*, 1, 2, 3, Alain Petit1, Hong Tian Wang1, Laura M Epure1, Pierre-Luc Girard-Lauriault4, Jean A Ouellet3, Michael R Wertheimer4, John Antoniou1, 2
1 Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research, SMBD – Jewish General Hospital
2 Division of Surgery, McGill University
3 McGill Spine & Scoliosis Unit, Montreal Children Hospital
4 Department of Engineering Physics, Ecole Polytechnique, Montréal, Canada

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© Mwale et al.; Licensee Bentham Open.

open-access license: This is an open access article licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted, non-commercial use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the work is properly cited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Division for Orthopaedic Surgery, McGill University, Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research, SMBD – Jewish General Hospital, 3755 Chemin de la Côte Ste Catherine, Montréal, QC H3T 1E2, Canada; E-mail:


We recently developed a nitrogen-rich plasma-polymerized biomaterial, designated “PPE:N” (N-doped plasma-polymerized ethylene) that is capable of suppressing cellular hypertrophy while promoting type I collagen and aggrecan expression in mesenchymal stem cells from osteoarthritis patients. We then hypothesized that these surfaces would form an ideal substrate on which the nucleus pulposus (NP) phenotype would be maintained. Recent evidence using microarrays showed that in young rats, the relative mRNA levels of glypican-3 (GPC3) and pleiotrophin binding factor (PTN) were significantly higher in nucleus pulposus (NP) compared to annulus fibrosus (AF) and articular cartilage. Furthermore, vimentin (VIM) mRNA levels were higher in NP versus articular cartilage. In contrast, the levels of expression of cartilage oligomeric matrix protein (COMP) and matrix gla protein precursor (MGP) were lower in NP compared to articular cartilage. The objective of this study was to compare the expression profiles of these genes in NP cells from fetal bovine lumbar discs when cultured on either commercial polystyrene (PS) tissue culture dishes or on PPE:N with time. We found that the expression of these genes varies with the concentration of N ([N]). More specifically, the expression of several genes of NP was sensitive to [N], with a decrease of GPC3, VIM, PTN, and MGP in function of decreasing [N]. The expression of aggrecan, collagen type I, and collagen type II was also studied: no significant differences were observed in the cells on different surfaces with different culture time. The results support the concept that PPE:N may be a suitable scaffold for the culture of NP cells. Further studies are however necessary to better understand their effects on cellular phenotypes.