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8th Combined Meeting Of Orthopaedic Research Societies (CORS)



In degenerative disorders of the spine such as disc herniation, intervertebral discs can affect neural tissue, which may result in pain as demonstrated in both basic science and clinical investigations. Previous in vitro and in vivo studies have shown that notochordal cells and chondrocyte-like cells in nucleus pulposus affect nervous tissue differently. The aim of the present study was to evaluate the morphology of spinal neural tissue in an in vivo rat model following application of cells derived from nucleus pulposus.

Material and method

A disc herniation model in rats (n=58) was used. The L4 nerve root was exposed to a) nucleus pulposus (3mg), b) notochordal cells (25,000 cells) or c) chondrocyte-like cells (25,000 cells). Four control groups were included: 1) application of nucleus pulposus (3 mg) and mechanical displacement of the spinal nerve complex, 2) sham operated animals, 3) application of cell diluent (50 μl) and 4) naïve animals. Seven days after surgery the L4 nerve roots with their dorsal root ganglion were harvested and prepared for blinded neuropathological examinations using light microscopy.


Damage and loss of myelinated nerve fibers as well as epineural granulation tissue were most pronounced in the group that had been subjected to nerve root displacement and application of nucleus pulposus. There was significantly less nerve fiber damage in all other groups. The number of myelinated nerve fibers with enlarged outer Schwann cell compartment was significantly higher in all experimental groups as compared to naïve animals, except for animals in which the nerve root complex had been exposed to cell diluent, notochordal cells and chondrocyte-like cells.

Discussion and Conclusion

This is the first examination nerve root and dorsal root ganglion morphology after exposure to notochordal cells and chondrocyte-like cells in an in vivo model. The results indicate that application of notochordal cells and chondrocyte-like cells, per se, do not structurally affect the myelinated nerve fibers compared to naïve animals. However, one cannot exclude that there may be physiological effects of notochordal cells and chondrocyte-like cells on nerve tissue in vivo although no morphological differences were observed with the present method. The findings in the present study support previous observations that mechanical nerve tissue displacement and application of nucleus pulposus can induce pronounced morphological nerve tissue changes. However, the combination of mechanical nerve tissue displacement and application of notochordal cells and/or chondrocyte-like cells was not tested. In conclusion, the present study suggests that mechanical nerve tissue displacement is a prerequisite for the induction of morphological changes following application of disc tissue and its components on neural tissue.


The effects of notochordal cells and chondrocyte-like cells on spinal nerve tissue might be dependent on concurrent mechanical nerve tissue deformation.