Study design: The progression of intervertebral disc degeneration following anterolateral "stab" of adult rabbit lumbar discs by 16-gauge hypodermic needle to a limited (5-mm) depth was studied for up to 24 weeks using magnetic resonance imaging, radiograph, and histologic outcome measures.
Objectives: To develop a slowly progressive, reproducible rabbit model of intervertebral disc degeneration suitable for studying pathogenesis and pathophysiology of intervertebral disc degeneration and testing safety and efficacy of novel approaches to the treatment of intervertebral disc degeneration (e.g., growth factors, gene therapy, cell therapy, and tissue engineering).
Summary of background data: Numerous animal models of intervertebral disc degeneration have been proposed in the literature, each with attendant advantages and disadvantages. The classic "stab model," involving full-thickness stab of anterior anulus fibrosus of adult rabbit lumbar discs by a number 11 scalpel blade, appears to produce changes in certain biochemical and histologic outcome measures that are similar to changes seen in human intervertebral disc degeneration. However, the immediate herniation of nucleus pulposus on full-thickness stab renders this model less suitable for 1) studying effects of less precipitous changes in nucleus pulposus and anulus fibrosus that may be important in the onset and progression of intervertebral disc degeneration and 2) testing novel therapeutic approaches that target the processes of early intervertebral disc degeneration.
Methods: The L2-L3, L3-L4, and L4-L5 lumbar intervertebral discs of 18 skeletally mature female New Zealand White rabbits were stabbed by 16-gauge hypodermic needle to a depth of 5 mm in the left anterolateral anulus fibrosus. Serial magnetic resonance imaging scans of the stabbed discs and intact L1-L2 and L5-L6 control discs were performed at 3, 6, 12, and 24 weeks post surgery and compared with preoperative magnetic resonance images. Supplemental radiograph and histologic analyses were performed.
Results: The stabbed discs exhibited a progressive decrease in "magnetic resonance imaging index" (the product of nucleus pulposus area and signal intensity from T2-weighted midsagittal plane images) starting at 3 weeks post stab and continuing through 24 weeks, with no evidence of spontaneous recovery or reversal of magnetic resonance imaging changes. Radiograph findings included early osteophyte formation by 6 weeks post stab and extensive, bridging osteophytes by 24 weeks. Histologic analysis revealed progressive loss of notochordal cells from the nucleus pulposus, filling of the nucleus pulposus space with fibrocartilage, and derangement of anulus fibrosus.
Conclusions: Stabbing the anterolateral anulus fibrosus of adult rabbit lumbar discs with a 16-gauge hypodermic needle to a limited (5-mm) depth results in a number of slowly progressive and reproducible magnetic resonance imaging, radiograph, and histologic changes over 24 weeks that show a similarity to changes seen in human intervertebral disc degeneration. This model would appear suitable for studying pathogenesis and pathophysiology of intervertebral disc degeneration and testing safety and efficacy of novel treatments of intervertebral disc degeneration.