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This article is the author's final published version in Frontiers in immunology, Volume 13, June 2022, Article number 882407.

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Copyright © 2022 Ottone, Kim, Collins and Risbud.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.


The DNA-sensing cGAS-STING pathway promotes the senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP) and mediates type-I interferon inflammatory responses to foreign viral and bacterial DNA as well as self-DNA. Studies of the intervertebral disc in humans and mice demonstrate associations between aging, increased cell senescence, and disc degeneration. Herein we assessed the role of STING in SASP promotion in STING gain- (N153S) and loss-of-function mouse models. N153S mice evidenced elevated circulating levels of proinflammatory markers including IL-1β, IL-6, and TNF-α, showed elevated monocyte and macrophage abundance in the vertebral marrow, and exhibited a mild trabecular and cortical bone phenotype in caudal vertebrae. Interestingly, despite systemic inflammation, the structural integrity of the disc and knee articular joint remained intact, and cells did not show a loss of their phenotype or elevated SASP. Transcriptomic analysis of N153S tissues demonstrated an upregulated immune response by disc cells, which did not closely resemble inflammatory changes in human tissues. Interestingly, STING-/- mice also showed a mild vertebral bone phenotype, but the absence of STING did not reduce the abundance of SASP markers or improve the age-associated disc phenotype. Overall, the analyses of N153S and STING-/- mice suggest that the cGAS-STING pathway is not a major contributor to SASP induction and consequent disc aging and degeneration but may play a minor role in the maintenance of trabecular bone in the vertebrae. This work contributes to a growing body of work demonstrating that systemic inflammation is not a key driver of disc degeneration.

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