Intervertebral disc degeneration: an experimental and numerical study using a rabbit model

  • Andrea Calvo-Echenique
  • José Cegoñino
  • Laura Correa-Martín
  • Luciano Bances
  • Amaya Pérez-del PalomarEmail author
Original Article


Animal models have been extensively used for the study of degenerative diseases and evaluation of new therapies to stop or even reverse the disease progression. The aim of this study is to reproduce lumbar intervertebral disc degeneration in a rabbit model by performing a percutaneous annular puncture at L4L5 level. The effect of this damage on the spine behaviour was analysed combining three different techniques: imaging processing, mechanical testing and computational modelling. Twenty New Zealand white rabbits were divided into control and experimental groups and followed up during 6 months. Intervertebral disc height, as well as nucleus area and signal intensity, decreased with degeneration while storage and loss moduli increased. Both changes may be related to the loss of water and tissue fibrosis. Similar but slighter changes were reported for adjacent discs. A finite element model was built based on MRI and mechanical testing findings to add new biomechanical information that cannot be obtained experimentally. Four stages were computationally simulated representing the different experimental phases. The numerical simulations showed that compressive stresses in the damaged and adjacent discs were modified with the progression of degeneration. Although extrapolation to humans should be carefully made, the use of numerical animal models combined with an experimental one could give a new insight of the overall mechanical behaviour of the spine.


Animal model Intervertebral disc degeneration Finite element model Experimental Lumbar spine 


Funding information

This work was supported by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness through projects DPI 2016-79302-R and by the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports (Grant FPU13/01070).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

No conflict of interest should be declared by any of the authors.

Ethical approval

This study was carried out in strict accordance with the recommendations in the Royal Decree 1201/2005 of 10 October 2005 (BOE from Oct. 21) on protection of animals used for experimentation and other scientific purposes. Experimental protocols were approved by the Committee on the Ethics of Animal Experiments of Minimally Invasive Surgery Centre Jesús Usón and by the Council of Agriculture and Rural Development of the Regional Government of Extremadura, Spain.

Supplementary material

11517_2017_1738_Fig8_ESM.gif (62 kb)
Supplementary material Fig. 1

Surgical technique: The needle was inserted, in a percutaneous manner, at 30–35 mm right to the midline spinous process and with an angle of 35–40° with respect to the horizontal plane. The penetration depth was checked under fluoroscopic control until reaching the centre of the IVD. (GIF 62 kb)

11517_2017_1738_MOESM1_ESM.eps (17.2 mb)
High resolution image (EPS 17646 kb)
11517_2017_1738_MOESM2_ESM.psd (927 kb)
Supplementary material Fig. 2 FE results-Tensile stresses: Comparison between the maximal principal stresses at the four stages ((1) Pre-operatively, (2) post-operatively, (3) 3 months after the surgery and (4) 6 months after the surgery) at the punctured level (L4L5) and its adjacent ones (L3L4 and L5L6). (a) Maximal principal stresses variation across a laterolateral line that lies on a frontal cut of the intervertebral disc. The discontinuities are due to the puncture. Data shown for instant and transient response. (b) Colour maps of maximal principal stress distribution after loading and after relaxation period. (PSD 926 kb)


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Copyright information

© International Federation for Medical and Biological Engineering 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Group of Biomaterials, Aragón Institute of Engineering Research (I3A), Mechanical Engineering DepartmentUniversity of ZaragozaZaragozaSpain
  2. 2.Minimally Invasive Surgery Center: Jesús UsónCaceresSpain
  3. 3.Department of NeurosurgeryHospital Clínico Universitario Lozano BlesaZaragozaSpain

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