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Keywords:

  • intervertebral disc;
  • degeneration;
  • osmotic pressure;
  • diurnal cycle;
  • finite element

Abstract

A significant biochemical change that takes place in intervertebral disc degeneration is the loss of proteoglycans in the nucleus pulposus. Proteoglycans attract fluid, which works to reduce mechanical stresses in the solid matrix of the nucleus and provide a hydrostatic pressure to the annulus fibrosus, whose fibrous nature accommodates this stress. Our goals are to develop an osmo-poroelastic finite element model to study the relationship between proteoglycan content and the stress distribution within the disc and to analyze the effects of degeneration on the disc's diurnal mechanical response. Stress in the annulus increased with degeneration from ∼0.2 to 0.4 MPa, and an increase occurred in the center of the nucleus from 1.2 to 1.6 MPa. The osmotic pressure in the central nucleus region decreased the most with degeneration, from ∼0.42 to ∼0.1 MPa in a severely dehydrated disc. A 3% decrease in diurnal fluid lost with degeneration equated to ∼21% decrease in fluid exchange, and hence a decrease in nutrients that require convection to enter the disc. We quantified the increases in internal stresses in the nucleus and annulus throughout the various stages of degeneration, suggesting that these changes lead to further remodeling of the tissue. © 2011 Orthopaedic Research Society Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Orthop Res 30:122–128, 2012