The cellular pathobiology of the degenerate intervertebral disc and discogenic back pain

Rheumatology (Oxford). 2009 Jan;48(1):5-10. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/ken396. Epub 2008 Oct 14.


In 2007, three times as many peer reviewed publications covering the biology and biotherapeutics of intervertebral disc (IVD) disease appeared in the literature than in 1997. This is testimony to the upsurge in interest in the IVD, mainly driven by the openings that modern molecular pathology has generated to investigate mechanisms of human disease and the potential offered by novel therapeutic technologies to use data coming from these studies to positively influence chronic discogenic back pain and sciatica. Molecular pathology has shown IVD degeneration, a major cause of low back pain, to be a complex, active disorder in which disturbed cytokine biology, cellular dysfunction and altered load responses play key roles. This has translated into a search for target molecules and disease processes that might be the focus of future, evidence-based therapies for back pain. It is not possible to describe the totality of advances that have been made in understanding the biology of the IVD in recent years, but in this review those areas of biology that are currently influencing, or could conceivably soon impinge on, clinical thinking or practice around IVD degeneration and discogenic back pain are described and discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Back Pain / etiology*
  • Cytokines / physiology
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc / innervation
  • Intervertebral Disc / metabolism
  • Intervertebral Disc / pathology*
  • Spinal Diseases / complications
  • Spinal Diseases / metabolism
  • Spinal Diseases / pathology*
  • Stress, Mechanical


  • Cytokines