Anulus fibrosus tension inhibits degenerative structural changes in lamellar collagen


Mechanical stress is one of the risk factors believed to influence intervertebral disc degeneration. Animal models have shown that certain regimes of compressive loading can induce a cascade of biological effects that ultimately results in cellular and structural changes in the disc. It has been proposed that both cell-mediated breakdown of collagen and the compromised stability of collagen with loss of anular tension could result in degradation of lamellae in the anulus fibrosus (AF). To determine whether this may be important in the AF, we subjected entire rings of de-cellularized AF tissue to MMP-1 digestion with or without tension. Biomechanical testing found trends of decreasing strength and stiffness when tissues were digested without tension compared with those with tension. To determine the physiologic significance of tissue level tension in the AF, we used an established in vivo murine model to apply a disc compression insult known to cause degeneration. Afterward, that motion segment was placed in fixed-angle bending to impose tissue level tension on part of the AF and compression on the contralateral side. We found that the AF on the convex side of bending retained a healthy lamellar appearance, while the AF on the concave side resembled tissues that had undergone degeneration by loading alone. Varying the time of onset and duration of bending revealed that even a brief duration applied immediately after cessation of compression was beneficial to AF structure on the convex side of bending. Our results suggest that both cell-mediated events and cell-independent mechanisms may contribute to the protective effect of tissue level tension in the AF.

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Financial support for this study was received from the National Institutes of Health AR48033 (A. H. Hsieh) and AR46173 (J. C. Lotz).

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Correspondence to Adam H. Hsieh.

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Lotz, J.C., Hadi, T., Bratton, C. et al. Anulus fibrosus tension inhibits degenerative structural changes in lamellar collagen. Eur Spine J 17, 1149 (2008).

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  • Intervertebral disc
  • Mechanical stress
  • Anulus fibrosus
  • Biomechanics
  • Animal model