Journal of orthopaedic surgery and research

Effects of annulus defects and implantation of poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) (PLGA)/fibrin gel scaffolds on nerves ingrowth in a rabbit model of annular injury disc degeneration.

PMID 28499451


Growth of nerve fibers has been shown to occur in a rabbit model of intravertebral disc degeneration (IVD) induced by needle puncture. As nerve growth may underlie the process of chronic pain in humans affected by disc degeneration, we sought to investigate the factors underlying nerve ingrowth in a minimally invasive annulotomy rabbit model of IVD by comparing the effects of empty disc defects with those of defects filled with poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid)/fibrin gel (PLGA) plugs. New Zealand white rabbits (n = 24) received annular injuries at three lumbar levels (L3/4, L4/5, and L5/6). The discs were randomly assigned to four groups: (a) annular defect (1.8-mm diameter; 4-mm depth) by mini-trephine, (b) annular defect implanted with a PLGA scaffold containing a fibrin gel, (c) annular puncture by a 16G needle (5-mm depth), and (d) uninjured L2/3 disc (control). Disc degeneration was evaluated by radiography, MRI, histology, real-time PCR, and analysis of proteoglycan (PG) content. Nerve ingrowth into the discs was assessed by immunostaining with the nerve marker protein gene product 9.5. Injured discs showed a progressive disc space narrowing with significant disc degeneration and proteoglycan loss, as confirmed by imaging results, molecular and compositional analysis, and histological examinations. In 16G punctured discs, nerve ingrowth was observed on the surface of scar tissue. In annular defects, nerve fibers were found to be distributed along small fissures within the fibrocartilaginous-like tissue that filled the AF. In discs filled with PLGA/ fibrin gel, more nerve fibers were observed growing deeper into the inner AF along the open annular track.  In addition, innervations scores showed significantly higher than those of punctured discs and empty defects. A limited vascular proliferation was found in the injured sites and regenerated tissues. Nerve ingrowth was significantly higher in PLGA/fibrin-filled discs than in empty defects. Possible explanations include (i) annular fissures along the defect and early loss of proteoglycan may facilitate the ingrowth process and (ii) biodegradable PLGA/fibrin gel may promote adverse growth of nerves and blood vessels into deeper parts of injured disc. The rabbit annular defect model of disc degeneration appears suitable to investigate the effects of nerve ingrowth in relation to pain generation.