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J Biomech. 2004 Feb;37(2):213-21.

Fluid flow and convective transport of solutes within the intervertebral disc.

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ME Müller Institute for Surgical Technology and Biomechanics, University of Bern, Murtenstrasse 35, PO Box 8354, CH-3001 Bern, Switzerland.


Previous experimental and analytical studies of solute transport in the intervertebral disc have demonstrated that for small molecules diffusive transport alone fulfils the nutritional needs of disc cells. It has been often suggested that fluid flow into and within the disc may enhance the transport of larger molecules. The goal of the study was to predict the influence of load-induced interstitial fluid flow on mass transport in the intervertebral disc. An iterative procedure was used to predict the convective transport of physiologically relevant molecules within the disc. An axisymmetric, poroelastic finite-element structural model of the disc was developed. The diurnal loading was divided into discrete time steps. At each time step, the fluid flow within the disc due to compression or swelling was calculated. A sequentially coupled diffusion/convection model was then employed to calculate solute transport, with a constant concentration of solute being provided at the vascularised endplates and outer annulus. Loading was simulated for a complete diurnal cycle, and the relative convective and diffusive transport was compared for solutes with molecular weights ranging from 400 Da to 40 kDa. Consistent with previous studies, fluid flow did not enhance the transport of low-weight solutes. During swelling, interstitial fluid flow increased the unidirectional penetration of large solutes by approximately 100%. Due to the bi-directional temporal nature of disc loading, however, the net effect of convective transport over a full diurnal cycle was more limited (30% increase). Further study is required to determine the significance of large solutes and the timing of their delivery for disc physiology.

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