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Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 1995 Feb 15;20(4):412-20.

An experimental lumbar intertransverse process spinal fusion model. Radiographic, histologic, and biomechanical healing characteristics.

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Emory Spine Center, Department of Orthopaedics, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.



The purpose of this investigation was to develop, characterize, and validate an animal model for lumbar intertransverse process fusion.


This study used a rabbit model to characterize the radiographic, histologic, and biomechanical properties of the intertransverse process spinal fusion healing process.


Sixty adult New Zealand white rabbits underwent bilateral posterolateral spinal fusion at L5-L6 using autogenous iliac bone graft. Four of the rabbits were used as negative controls: two received bone graft without decortication of the transverse process, and two underwent decortication without bone grafting. Rabbits were killed at 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, or 10 weeks and the spinal fusions were analyzed by radiography, manual palpation, and uniaxial tensile mechanical testing or light microscopy.


Overall the nonunion rate was 33% in animals 4 or more weeks from surgery. Biomechanical strength and stiffness of the fusions became statistically different from the adjacent unfused control levels after the third week (P < 0.05). Tensile strength of the nonunions (1.4 times unfused control levels) was statistically less (P < 0.05) than that of the solidly fused levels (1.8 times unfused controls) in weeks 4, 5, 6, and 10. Fusion was not achieved in any of the control animals with omission of decortication or bone grafting. Light microscopic analysis showed three distinct and reproducible phases of spinal fusion healing.


This animal model overcomes the limitations of previous models by more closely replicating the human procedure in surgical technique, graft healing environment, and outcome (i.e., a nonunion rate similar to that seen in humans). This model provides an opportunity to explore questions relevant to the biology of intertransverse process fusion and to investigate the coupling of the membranous and endochondral mechanisms of bone formation during spinal fusion.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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