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This research was originally published in Journal of Biological Chemistry. Choi, H., Chaiyamongkol, W., Doolittle, A. C., Johnson, Z. I., Gogate, S. S., Schoepflin, Z. R., Shapiro, I.M., & Risbud, M. V.. COX-2 expression mediated by calcium-TonEBP signaling axis under hyperosmotic conditions serves osmoprotective function in nucleus pulposus cells. Journal of Biological Chemistry. 2018; 293(23):869-898. © the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology


The nucleus pulposus (NP) of intervertebral discs experiences dynamic changes in tissue osmolarity because of diurnal loading of the spine. TonEBP/NFAT5 is a transcription factor that is critical in osmoregulation as well as survival of NP cells in the hyperosmotic milieu. The goal of this study was to investigate whether cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) expression is osmoresponsive and dependent on TonEBP, and whether it serves an osmoprotective role. NP cells up-regulated COX-2 expression in hyperosmotic media. The induction of COX-2 depended on elevation of intracellular calcium levels and p38 MAPK pathway, but independent of calcineurin signaling as well as MEK/ERK and JNK pathways. Under hyperosmotic conditions, both COX-2 mRNA stability and its proximal promoter activity were increased. The proximal COX-2 promoter (-1840/+123 bp) contained predicted binding sites for TonEBP, AP-1, NF-κB, and C/EBP-β. While COX-2 promoter activity was positively regulated by both AP-1 and NF-κB, AP-1 had no effect and NF-κB negatively regulated COX-2 protein levels under hyperosmotic conditions. On the other hand, TonEBP was necessary for both COX-2 promoter activity and protein up-regulation in response to hyperosmotic stimuli.

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