The pathomechanism of spondylolytic spondylolisthesis in immature primate lumbar spines in vitro and finite element assessments

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2001 Feb 15;26(4):E38-49. doi: 10.1097/00007632-200102150-00003.


Study design: Immature Chacma baboon (Papio ursinus) spine specimens were used to determine load-displacement behavior as related to disc injury. This was accomplished through the application of A-P shear force until failure of FSUs with pars defects. Several finite element models (FEMs) of the FSU were developed to study the mechanism of slippage in immature baboon lumbar spines.

Objectives: The purpose was to show that spondylolisthesis (olisthesis) always occurs through the growth plate using a model similar to immature human lumbar spines. Using FEMs, the roles of facet orientation, pars interarticularis thickness, and a weak growth-plate in producing slippage were examined.

Summary of background data: Progression from spondylolysis (lysis) to olisthesis occurs, most often, during the adolescent growth spurt. The biomechanical literature dealing with the slippage mechanism in the immature lumbar spine does not provide a clear understanding and is sparse.

Methods: Several groups of FSUs were subjected to A-P shear force until failure. The results provided displacement at failure as a function of disc injury and flexion-extension fatigue. A bilateral pars defect was created in each specimen prior to application of A-P shear force using an MTS machine. Failure sites were assessed radiographically and histologically. A nonlinear 3-D FEM of the intact L4-L5 was created from CT scans. The model was modified to predict the effects of a pars fracture, a thin pars, a weak growth plate, and facet orientation on the shear load through the growth plate and stresses in the pars.

Results: Experimentally, failures always occurred through the growth-plate in the disc intact and disc-incised groups. In the intact FEM, the growth plate carried21% of the applied A-P shear force. The load increased when the facets were more sagittally oriented. The effect of thin pars and/or weaker growth plate was an increase in stresses in the pars. Changes in the load through the growth plate were minimal.

Conclusions: The weakest link in immature baboon lumbar functional spinal units (FSUs) with lysis during an A-P shear load was the growth plate, between the cartilaginous and osseous end plates. Surgeons may assess this lesion on MRI views, thereby predicting the possible development and preventing progression of olisthesis. Finite element model results predict that more sagittally orientated facets and/or a pars fracture are prerequisites for olisthesis to occur.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Intervertebral Disc / growth & development
  • Intervertebral Disc / injuries*
  • Intervertebral Disc / physiopathology
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / etiology*
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / pathology
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / physiopathology
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / growth & development
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / injuries*
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Papio / anatomy & histology
  • Papio / growth & development*
  • Papio / physiology
  • Spondylolisthesis / etiology*
  • Spondylolisthesis / pathology
  • Spondylolisthesis / physiopathology
  • Spondylolysis / complications*
  • Spondylolysis / pathology
  • Spondylolysis / physiopathology
  • Weight-Bearing / physiology