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Spine J. 2004 Nov-Dec;4(6):669-74.

The effects of doxorubicin (adriamycin) on spinal fusion: an experimental model of posterolateral lumbar spinal arthrodesis.

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  • 1Scoliosis and Spine Center of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center, O'Dea Medical Arts Bldg, 7505 Osler Drive, Suite 104, Towson, MD 21204-7737, USA.



Malignant spinal lesions may require surgical excision and segmental stabilization. The decision to perform a concomitant fusion procedure is influenced in part by the need for adjunctive chemotherapy as well as the patient's anticipated survival. Although some evidence exists that suggests that chemotherapy may inhibit bony healing, no information exists regarding the effect of chemotherapy on spinal fusion healing.


To determine the effect of a frequently used chemotherapeutic agent, doxorubicin, on posterolateral spinal fusion rates.


Prospective animal model of posterolateral lumbar fusion.


Determination of spinal fusion by manual palpation of excised spines. Plain radiographic evaluation of denuded spines to evaluate intertransverse bone formation.


Thirty-two New Zealand White rabbits underwent posterior intertransverse process fusion at L5-L6 with the use of iliac autograft bone. Rabbits randomly received either intravenous doxorubicin (2.5 mg/kg) by means of the central vein of the ear at the time of surgery (16 animals) or no treatment (16 animals; the control group). The animals were euthanized at 5 weeks, and the lumbar spines were excised. Spine fusion was assessed by manually palpating (by observers blinded to the treatment group) at the level of arthrodesis, and at the adjacent levels proximal and distal. This provided similar information to surgical fusion assessment by palpation in humans. Fusion was defined as the absence of palpable motion. Posteroanterior radiographs of the excised spines were graded in a blinded fashion using a five-point scoring system (0 to 4) devised to describe the amount of bone observed between the L5-L6 transverse processes. Power analysis conducted before initiation of the study indicated that an allocation of 16 animals to each group would permit detection of at least a 20% difference in fusion rates with statistical significance at p=.05.


Eleven of the 16 spines (69%) in the control group and 6 of the 16 spines (38%) in the doxorubicin group fused. This difference was statistically significant (=.038). There was no significant correlation (p>.05) between the radiographic grade of bone formation (0 to 4) and fusion as determined by palpation. There were four wound infections in the control group and four in the doxorubicin group. However, solid fusions were palpated in three of these four spines in both the control and treatment groups.


No significant differences in wound complications were noted with doxorubicin administration. A single dose of doxorubicin administered intravenously at the time of surgery appears to play a significant inhibitory role in the process of spinal fusion. If similar effects occur in humans, these data suggest that doxorubicin may be harmful to bone healing in a spine fusion if given during the perioperative period. Further investigation will be necessary to determine the effect of time to aid at determining whether doxorubicin administered several weeks pre- or postoperatively results in improved fusion rate, and whether bone morphogenetic proteins can overcome these inhibitory effects.

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