Mechanical function of the intervertebral disc is maintained through the interaction between the hydrated nucleus pulposus, the surrounding annulus fibrosus, and the superior and inferior endplates. In disc degeneration the normal transfer of load between disc substructures is compromised. The objective of this study was to explore the mechanical role of the nucleus pulposus in support of axial compressive loads over time. This was achieved by measuring the elastic slow ramp and viscoelastic stress-relaxation mechanical behaviors of cadaveric sheep motion segments before and after partial nucleotomy through the endplate (keeping the annulus fibrosus intact). Mechanics were evaluated at five conditions: Intact, intact after 10,000 cycles of compression, acutely after nucleotomy, following nucleotomy and 10,000 cycles of compression, and following unloaded recovery. Radiographs and magnetic resonance images were obtained to examine structure. Only the short time constant of the stress relaxation was altered due to nucleotomy. In contrast, cyclic loading resulted in significant and large changes to both the stiffness and stress relaxation behaviors. Moreover, the nucleotomy had little to no effect on the disc mechanics after cyclic loading, as there were no significant differences comparing mechanics after cyclic loading with or without the nucleotomy. Following unloaded recovery the mechanical changes that had occurred as a consequence of cyclic loading were restored, leaving only a sustained change in the short time constant due to the trans-endplate nucleotomy. Thus the swelling and redistribution of the remaining nucleus pulposus was not able to fully restore mechanical behaviors. This study reveals insights into the role of the nucleus pulposus in disc function, and provides new information toward the potential role of altered nucleus pulpous function in the degenerative cascade.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Biomedical Engineering
- Physiology (medical)