A detailed microscopic examination of alterations in normal anular structure induced by mechanical destabilization in an ovine model of disc degeneration

Meredith L. Schollum, Richard C. Appleyard, Christopher B. Little, James Melrose*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Study Design: Microstructural investigation of anular structure. Objective: To reveal the effect of mechanical destabilization on the anular architecture both locally and distantly. Summary Of Background Data: Several longitudinal ovine-induced disc degeneration studies have documented degenerative changes in disc components using histologic, biomechanical, and biochemical approaches; however, changes in intervertebral disc (IVD) microstructure have largely remained neglected. In recent years, the use of structurally relevant section planes has improved our understanding of disc microstructure, including the presence of significant bridging structures radially linking the lamellae. It has been suggested that the translamellar cross-bridges offer a mechanism by which the anular wall can adaptively remodel itself in response to a changing biomechanical microenvironment. Methods: IVDs harvested from lesion and sham-operated groups of Merino wethers were subjected to en face oblique and vertical sectioning. The macrostructural effect of the destabilization was examined in the vertically sectioned group with conventional histologic techniques. The second group was serially sectioned into 30-μm slices allowing a global examination of the anular microstructure in its fully hydrated state using a differential interference contrast microscope. Results: The previously described induced disc degeneration in the mid-inner anulus fibrosus (AF) and a spontaneous repair process in the outer AF was confirmed. Increased translamellar bridging was observed contralaterally to the lesion in the mechanically destabilized IVD and development of atypical broad bridging elements in the outer lamellae. Structural alterations in the lamellar anchorages to the cartilaginous endplates in destabilized IVDs, including lamellar branching and discontinuities atypical of normal lamellar attachments were also observed. Conclusion: The present investigation has offered a glimpse of an anular wall apparently capable of remodeling in response to perturbations in its normal mechanical environment. The translamellar cross-bridges undergo adaptations in structure, in response to altered stresses locally at the anular defect site but also distantly in the contralateral AF in the destabilized disc. It is currently not known whether such changes in anular microarchitecture, however, predispose the anulus to further mechanical damage or have a stabilizing role to play in this structure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1965-1973
Number of pages9
Issue number22
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2010
Externally publishedYes


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