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Mechanical and biochemical injury of spinal nerve roots: a morphological and neurophysiological study


Compression may induce morphological and neurophysiological changes in nerve roots. However, it has also been demonstrated experimentally that nucleus pulposus, without any compression, may induce similar changes when applied epidurally. The present study was undertaken to examine the morphological and functional effects of autologous nucleus pulposus and the combination of nucleus pulposus and compression in a pig model. Nucleus pulposus from a lumbar disc in the same animal was applied epidurally around the first sacral nerve root in the pig, with or without a specially designed constrictor. After 1 week, nerve root conduction velocity was determined in the exposed and in the contralateral control nerve root by local electrical stimulation and EMG recordings in the back muscles. Nerve root specimens were processed for blinded light-microscopic evaluation. There was a significant reduction in nerve conduction velocity for all exposed nerve roots as well as contralateral control nerve roots when nucleus pulposus had been applied. There were no statistically significant differences between the nerve conduction velocities recorded following the combined application of nucleus pulposus and compression and those recorded after application of nucleus pulposus alone. The reductions were similar to the reduction induced by the constrictor per se, as seen in a previous study. In all series there was also a decrease in conduction velocity in the control nerve roots, in contrast to previous studies. Light microscopy demonstrated axonal changes only in nerve roots exposed to the constrictor. In conclusion, both epidural nucleus pulposus and compression may induce a significant reduction in nerve conduction velocity. The combination, however, of these two agents does not increase the magnitude of such dysfunction. The potency of nucleus pulposus to induce changes in nerve roots after epidural application was further indicated by the fact that reduction in nerve conduction velocity also occurred in the contralateral control nerve roots in this series. The histological data suggest that axonal injury can not alone explain the reduction in nerve conduction velocity, and that the morphological basis for the functional changes must be sought at the subcellular level.

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Cornefjord, M., Olmarker, K., Rydevik, B. et al. Mechanical and biochemical injury of spinal nerve roots: a morphological and neurophysiological study. Eur Spine J 5, 187–192 (1996).

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Key words

  • Disc herniation
  • Nerve root
  • Nucleus pulposus
  • Compression
  • Intervertebral disc