Selective inhibition of tumor necrosis factor-alpha prevents nucleus pulposus-induced thrombus formation, intraneural edema, and reduction of nerve conduction velocity: possible implications for future pharmacologic treatment strategies of sciatica

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2001 Apr 15;26(8):863-9. doi: 10.1097/00007632-200104150-00007.


Study design: The possibility to prevent nucleus pulposus-induced functional and structural nerve root injury by selective tumor necrosis factor-alpha inhibition was assessed in an experimental model in the pig spine.

Objective: The objective of the study was to evaluate the role of tumor necrosis factor-alpha in the mediation of nucleus pulposus-induced nerve injury by using selective inhibition.

Summary of background data: The cytokine tumor necrosis factor-alpha has been suggested to play a key role in the nerve root injury induced by local application of nucleus pulposus. However, previous studies have not been able to distinguish the effects between tumor necrosis factor-alpha and other disc-related cytokines because of the use of nonspecific cytokine inhibition.

Methods: Autologous nucleus pulposus was harvested from a lumbar disc and applied to the porcine sacrococcygeal cauda equina. The pigs were simultaneously treated with two selective tumor necrosis factor-alpha inhibitors (etanercept n = 8 and infliximab n = 5), a heparin analogue (enoxaparin n = 5) or saline for control (n = 5). After 7 days the nerve conduction velocity over the application zone was determined and samples of the exposed nerve roots were collected for light microscopic evaluation.

Results: The two tumor necrosis factor-alpha inhibitors prevented the reduction of nerve conduction velocity and also seemed to limit the nerve fiber injury, the intracapillary thrombus formation, and the intraneural edema formation. However, treatment with enoxaparin did not seem to be different from control regarding reduction of nerve conduction velocity or histologic changes.

Conclusions: The data clearly indicate that tumor necrosis factor-alpha is involved in the basic pathophysiologic events leading to nerve root structural and functional changes after local application of nucleus pulposus. The study therefore provides a basic scientific platform with potential clinical implications regarding the use of anti-tumor necrosis factor-alpha medication as treatment in patients with disc herniation and sciatica.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / pharmacology
  • Anticoagulants / pharmacology
  • Antirheumatic Agents / pharmacology
  • Cauda Equina / pathology
  • Cauda Equina / physiopathology
  • Edema / etiology
  • Edema / pathology
  • Edema / prevention & control*
  • Enoxaparin / pharmacology
  • Etanercept
  • Immunoglobulin G / pharmacology
  • Infliximab
  • Intervertebral Disc / blood supply
  • Intervertebral Disc / innervation
  • Intervertebral Disc / pathology*
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / complications*
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / drug therapy
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / pathology
  • Nerve Fibers / pathology
  • Nerve Fibers / physiology
  • Neural Conduction / drug effects
  • Receptors, Tumor Necrosis Factor
  • Sciatica / drug therapy*
  • Sciatica / etiology
  • Sciatica / pathology
  • Spinal Nerve Roots / pathology
  • Spinal Nerve Roots / physiopathology
  • Swine
  • Thrombosis / etiology
  • Thrombosis / pathology
  • Thrombosis / prevention & control*
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / antagonists & inhibitors*


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Anticoagulants
  • Antirheumatic Agents
  • Enoxaparin
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Receptors, Tumor Necrosis Factor
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Infliximab
  • Etanercept