The effect of nucleotomy and the dependence of degeneration of human intervertebral disc strain in axial compression

Grace D. Oconnell, Neil R. Malhotra, Edward J. Vresilovic, Dawn M. Elliott

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57 Scopus citations


Study Design.: Biomechanics of human intervertebral discs before and after nucleotomy. Objective.: To noninvasively quantify the effect of nucleotomy on internal strains under axial compression in flexion, neutral, and extension positions, and to determine whether the change in strains depended on degeneration. Summary of Background Data.: Herniation and nucleotomy may accelerate the progression of disc degeneration. Removal of nucleus pulposus (NP) tissue has resulted in altered disc mechanics in vitro, including a decrease in internal pressure and an increase in the deformations at physiologically relevant strains. We recently presented a technique to quantify internal disc strains using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Methods.: Degeneration was quantitatively assessed by the T1ρ relaxation time in the NP. Samples were prepared from human levels L3-L4 and/or L4-L5. A 1000-N compressive load was applied while in the magnetic resonance scanner. Nucleotomy was performed by removing 2 g of NP through the posterior-lateral annulus fibrosus (AF). The discs were rehydrated, reimaged, and retested. The analyzed parameters include axial deformation, AF radial bulge, and strains. Results.: The axial deformation was more compressive after nucleotomy. In the neutral position, the axial deformation after nucleotomy correlated with degeneration (as quantified by T1ρ in the NP), with minimal alteration in nondegenerated discs. Nucleotomy altered the radial displacements and strains in the neutral position, such that the inner AF radial bulge decreased and the radial strains were more tensile in the lateral AF and less tensile in the posterior AF. In the bending loading positions the radial strains were not affected by nucleotomy. Conclusion.: Nucleotomy alters the internal radial and axial AF strains in the neutral position, which may leave the AF vulnerable to damage and microfractures. In bending, the effects of nucleotomy were minimal, likely due to more of the applied load being directed over the AF. Some of the nucleotomy effects are modulated by degeneration, where the mechanical effect of nucleotomy was magnified in degenerated discs and may further induce mechanical damage and degeneration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1765-1771
Number of pages7
Issue number21
StatePublished - Oct 1 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology


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