Object: The purpose of this study was to compare the characteristics of interbody fusion achieved using an autologous tricortical iliac crest bone graft with those of a cylinder- and a box-design cage in a sheep cervical spine model. This study was designed to determine whether there are differences between three interbody fusion procedures in: 1) ability to preserve postoperative distraction; 2) biomechanical stability; and 3) histological characteristics of intervertebral bone matrix formation.
Methods: Twenty-four sheep underwent C3-4 discectomy and fusion in which the following were used: Group 1, autologous tricortical iliac crest bone graft (eight sheep); Group 2, titanium cylinder-design cage filled with autologous iliac crest bone graft (eight sheep); and Group 3, titanium box-design cage filled with autologous iliac crest graft (eight sheep). Radiography was performed pre- and postoperatively and after 1, 2, 4, 8, and 12 weeks. At the same time points, disc space height, intervertebral angle, and lordosis angle were measured. After 12 weeks, the sheep were killed, and fusion sites were evaluated by obtaining functional radiographs in flexion and extension. Quantitative computerized tomography scans were acquired to assess bone mineral density, bone mineral content, and bone callus volume. Biomechanical testing was performed in flexion, extension, axial rotation, and lateral bending. Stiffness, range of motion, neutral zone, and elastic zone were determined. Histomorphological and histomorphometric analyses were performed, and polychrome sequential labeling was used to determine the time frame of new bone formation. Over a 12-week period significantly higher values for disc space height and intervertebral angle were shown in cage-treated sheep than in those that received bone graft. Functional radiographic assessment revealed significantly lower residual flexion-extension movement in sheep with the cylinder cage-fixed spines than in those that received bone graft group. The cylinder-design cages showed significantly higher values for bone mineral content, bone callus content, and stiffness in axial rotation and lateral bending than the other cages or grafts. Histomorphometric evaluation and polychrome sequential labeling showed a more progressed bone matrix formation in the cylindrical cage group than in both other groups.
Conclusions: Compared with the tricortical bone graft, both cages showed significantly better distractive properties. The cylindrical cage demonstrated a significantly higher biomechanical stiffness and an accelerated interbody fusion compared with the box-design cage and the tricortical bone graft. The differences in bone matrix formation within both cages were the result of the significantly lower stress shielding on the bone graft by the cylinder-design cage.