European Spine Journal

, Volume 21, Supplement 6, pp 810–818 | Cite as

Age-related changes in human cervical, thoracal and lumbar intervertebral disc exhibit a strong intra-individual correlation

  • C. Weiler
  • M. Schietzsch
  • T. Kirchner
  • A. G. Nerlich
  • N. Boos
  • K. Wuertz
Original Article



Intervertebral disc (IVD) degeneration is characterized as a multifactorial disease, in which the hereditary background is thought to be of high importance. Accordingly, one would expect all spinal levels (lumbar/cervical/thoracal) to be affected by above-average disc degeneration in genetically predisposed individuals. The aim of this study, therefore, was to analyze the amount of degenerative changes in different spine levels in humans from different ages.

Materials and methods

In detail, the presence, localization and abundance of histomorphological changes in the annulus fibrosus (AF) and nucleus pulposus (NP) in the cervical (C5/C6), thoracic (T2/T3) and lumbar (L2/L3) spine were investigated in complete autopsy IVD specimens (47 individuals) covering a complete age range (0–95 years).


Results indicate that the highest degree of histo-degenerative changes were observed in the NP in all spine levels and showed an age-related expression pattern. With regard to the different spine levels, lumbar disc specimen showed significantly more degenerative changes compared to cervical and thoracic discs, whereas no statistical difference was observed between cervical and thoracic discs. In summary, highest grades of degeneration were observed in lumbar discs (especially in the NP). Intra-individual correlations between the degeneration score in the different levels showed a significant individual concordance.


The intra-individual correlation of degenerative changes in all three examined spine regions further supports the notion that individual, i.e. genetic factors are strong predisposing factor for the development of age-related disc alterations.


Disc degeneration Histological degeneration score (HDS) Cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine Aging Intra-individual correlation 



This study was made possible by grants from AOSpine (SRN 02/103 and AOSBRC-07-03). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of AOSpine. The investigation was undertaken in accordance with the local ethic committee guidelines.

Conflict of interest



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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. Weiler
    • 1
  • M. Schietzsch
    • 1
  • T. Kirchner
    • 1
  • A. G. Nerlich
    • 2
  • N. Boos
    • 3
    • 4
  • K. Wuertz
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Institute of PathologyUniversity of MunichMunichGermany
  2. 2.Institute of PathologyAcademic Clinic Munich-BogenhausenMunichGermany
  3. 3.Spine Research Group, Competence Center for Applied Biotechnology and Molecular Medicine (CABMM)University of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  4. 4.AOSpine Research NetworkDuebendorfSwitzerland

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