Annulus fissures are mechanically and chemically conducive to the ingrowth of nerves and blood vessels

Manos Stefanakis, Maan Al-Abbasi, Ian Harding, Phillip Pollintine, Patricia Dolan, John Tarlton, Michael A. Adams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Study Design: Mechanical and biochemical analyses of cadaveric and surgically removed discs. Objective: To test the hypothesis that fissures in the annulus of degenerated human discs are mechanically and chemically conducive to the ingrowth of nerves and blood vessels. Summary of Background Data: Discogenic back pain is closely associated with fissures in the annulus fibrosus, and with the ingrowth of nerves and blood vessels. Methods: Three complementary studies were performed. First, 15 cadaveric discs that contained a major annulus fissure were subjected to 1 kN compression, while a miniature pressure transducer was pulled through the disc to obtain distributions of matrix compressive stress perpendicular to the fissure axis. Second, Safranin O staining was used to evaluate focal loss of proteoglycans from within annulus fissures in 25 surgically removed disc samples. Third, in 21 cadaveric discs, proteoglycans (sulfated glycosaminoglycans [sGAGs]) and water concentration were measured biochemically in disrupted regions of annulus containing 1 or more fissures, and in adjacent intact regions. Results: Reductions in compressive stress within annulus fissures averaged 36% to 46%, and could have been greater at the fissure axis. Stress reductions were greater in degenerated discs, and were inversely related to nucleus pressure (R2 = 47%; P = 0.005). Safranin O stain intensity indicated that proteoglycan concentration was typically reduced by 40% at a distance of 600 μm from the fissure axis, and the width of the proteoglycan-depleted zone increased with age (P < 0.006; R2 = 0.29) and with general proteoglycan loss (P < 0.001; R 2 = 0.32). Disrupted regions of annulus contained 36% to 54% less proteoglycans than adjacent intact regions from the same discs, although water content was reduced only slightly. Conclusion: Annulus fissures provide a low-pressure microenvironment that allows focal proteoglycan loss, leaving a matrix that is conducive to nerve and blood vessel ingrowth.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1883-1891
Number of pages9
Issue number22
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2012


  • fissure
  • intervertebral disc
  • nerve ingrowth
  • pressure
  • proteoglycans


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