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Eur Spine J. 2007 Apr;16(4):547-55. Epub 2006 Sep 1.

Temporo-spatial distribution of blood vessels in human lumbar intervertebral discs.

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Institute of Pathology, Academic Teaching Hospital Munich-Bogenhausen, Englschalkingerstr. 77, 81925, Munich, Germany.


While there is consensus in the literature that blood vessels are confined to the outer anulus fibrosus of normal adult intervertebral disc, debate continues whether there is a vascular in-growths into inner parts of the intervertebral disc during degeneration. We therefore tested the hypothesis that vascular in-growth is not a distinct feature of disc degeneration. The specific endothelial cell marker CD 31 (PECAM) was used to immunohistochemically investigate 42 paraffin-embedded complete mid-sagittal human intervertebral disc sections of various ages (0-86 years) and varying extent of histomorphological degeneration. Additionally, 20 surgical disc samples from individuals (26-69 years) were included in this study. In discs of fetal to infantile age, blood vessels perforated the cartilaginous end plate and extended into the inner and outer anulus fibrosus, but not into the nucleus pulposus. In adolescents and adults, no blood vessels were seen except for the outer zone of the anulus fibrosus adjacent to the insertion to ligaments. The cartilaginous end plate remained free of vessels, except for areas with circumscribed destruction of the end plate. In advanced disc degeneration, no vessels were observed except for those few cases with complete, scar-like disc destruction. However, some rim lesions and occasionally major clefts were surrounded by a small network of capillary blood vessels extending into deeper zones of the anulus fibrosus. A subsequent morphometric analysis, revealed slightly "deeper" blood vessel extension in juvenile/adolescent discs when compared to young, mature and senile adult individuals with significantly "deeper" extension in the posterior than anterior anulus. The analysis of the surgical specimens showed that only sparse capillary blood vessels which did not extend into the nucleus pulposus even in major disc disruption. Our results show that vascular invasion deeper than the periphery was not observed during disc degeneration, which supports the hypothesis that vascular in-growth is not a distinct feature of disc degeneration.

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