DNA methylation of SPARC and chronic low back pain

Maral Tajerian, Sebastian Alvarado, Magali Millecamps, Thomas Dashwood, Kathleen M. Anderson, Lisbet Haglund, Jean Ouellet, Moshe Szyf, Laura S. Stone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


Background: The extracellular matrix protein SPARC (Secreted Protein, Acidic, Rich in Cysteine) has been linked to degeneration of the intervertebral discs and chronic low back pain (LBP). In humans, SPARC protein expression is decreased as a function of age and disc degeneration. In mice, inactivation of the SPARC gene results in the development of accelerated age-dependent disc degeneration concurrent with age-dependent behavioral signs of chronic LBP.DNA methylation is the covalent modification of DNA by addition of methyl moieties to cytosines in DNA. DNA methylation plays an important role in programming of gene expression, including in the dynamic regulation of changes in gene expression in response to aging and environmental signals.We tested the hypothesis that DNA methylation down-regulates SPARC expression in chronic LBP in pre-clinical models and in patients with chronic LBP.Results: Our data shows that aging mice develop anatomical and behavioral signs of disc degeneration and back pain, decreased SPARC expression and increased methylation of the SPARC promoter. In parallel, we show that human subjects with back pain exhibit signs of disc degeneration and increased methylation of the SPARC promoter. Methylation of either the human or mouse SPARC promoter silences its activity in transient transfection assays.Conclusions: This study provides the first evidence that DNA methylation of a single gene plays a role in chronic pain in humans and animal models. This has important implications for understanding the mechanisms involved in chronic pain and for pain therapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number65
JournalMolecular Pain
StatePublished - Aug 25 2011


  • Aging
  • Back pain
  • DNA methylation
  • Disc degeneration
  • Epigenetics
  • Gene expression
  • Intervertebral disc


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