Vertebral osteomyelitis (VO) is an infection of the spine mostly caused by bacterial pathogens. The pathogenesis leading to destruction of intervertebral discs (IVD) and adjacent vertebral bodies (VB) is poorly described. We aimed to investigate the connection between infection, bone- and disc-metabolism in VO patients.
Fourteen patients with VO (infection group) and 14 patients with incomplete burst fractures of the spine (fracture group as controls) were included prospectively. Demographic data, treatment details, laboratory infection markers, and patient-reported outcome were assessed. Tissue biopsies from affected IVDs and adjacent VBs were analyzed for mRNA-expression levels of 18 target genes including chemokines, adipokines and genes involved in bone-metabolism by RT-qPCR.
The Receptor activator of NF-κB/Osteoprotegerin (RANK/OPG) expression ratio was elevated in VB and IVD of the infection group (p<0.001 and p=0.028, respectively). The RANK-ligand (RANKL)/OPG expression ratio was elevated in VB of the infection group (p<0.01). Expressions of the chemokines IL8 and CCL20 were higher in VB samples of the infection group. The expression of leptin was higher in IVD tissue, the mRNA expression of omentin and resistin was lower in VBs of the infection group. OPG mRNA expression was lower in infected VB and in IVD tissue compared to the fracture group.
We identified similar expression patterns of pro-inflammatory cytokines and the RANK/RANKL/OPG axis in VBs and IVDs of patients with VO. This finding suggests that common immuno-metabolic pathways are involved in mechanisms leading to tissue degradation in VBs and IVDs during VO.