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Eur Spine J. 2010 Apr;19(4):593-600. doi: 10.1007/s00586-009-1237-9. Epub 2009 Dec 12.

Lumbar posterolateral fusion inhibits sensory nerve ingrowth into punctured lumbar intervertebral discs and upregulation of CGRP immunoreactive DRG neuron innervating punctured discs in rats.

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Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Graduate School of Medicine, Chiba University, 1-8-1 Inohana, Chuo-ku, Chiba 260-8670, Japan.


Degeneration of lumbar intervertebral discs is thought to be a cause of low back pain. Studies have found that a cause of discogenic low back pain is intervertebral disc inflammation and axonal growth of afferent fibers innervating the disc. Lumbar spine fusion for chronic discogenic low back pain is considered an effective procedure. However, no study has investigated the mechanism of pain relief. We did this by applying Fluoro-Gold (FG) to the ventral aspect of the L4-L5 intervertebral discs of 40 rats. We exposed the nucleus pulposus to the annulus fibrosus in a disc punctured model. Rats were divided into 4 groups. Group A: Punctured intervertebral disc with sham posterolateral fusion (PLF) (n = 10), Group B: Punctured intervertebral disc with PLF (n = 15), Group C: Normal intervertebral disc (no puncture) with PLF (n = 10), and Group D: Normal disc (no disc puncture) with sham PLF (n = 5). Four weeks after surgery, bilateral L1-L5 dorsal root ganglia (DRGs) were stained with growth-associated protein 43 (GAP43), a marker of axonal growth, and calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), a neuropeptide marker of pain. Bone union was evaluated using X-ray imaging. Of the FG-labeled neurons, the proportions of GAP43- and CGRP-immunoreactive (IR) neurons in Group A were significantly higher than in Group D (P < 0.05). The proportions of GAP43- and CGRP-IR neurons in bone union rats in Group B were significantly lower than in nonunion rats in Group B and in the rats in Group A (P < 0.05). No significant differences in GAP43- and CGRP-IR neurons were observed between bone union and nonunion rats in Group C and the rats in Group D (P > 0.05). PLF is strongly related to the downregulation of GAP43 and CGRP expression. Therefore, PLF may suppress the increase of inflammatory neuropeptides and the process of axonal growth. Moreover, these results may explain, in part, the mechanism of pain relief following lumbar spinal fusion for chronic discogenic low back pain in humans.

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