Intervertebral disc, sensory nerves and neurotrophins: who is who in discogenic pain?

J Anat. 2010 Jul;217(1):1-15. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7580.2010.01227.x. Epub 2010 Apr 26.


The normal intervertebral disc (IVD) is a poorly innervated organ supplied only by sensory (mainly nociceptive) and postganglionic sympathetic (vasomotor efferents) nerve fibers. Interestingly, upon degeneration, the IVD becomes densely innervated even in regions that in normal conditions lack innervation. This increased innervation has been associated with pain of IVD origin. The mechanisms responsible for nerve growth and hyperinnervation of pathological IVDs have not been fully elucidated. Among the molecules that are presumably involved in this process are some members of the family of neurotrophins (NTs), which are known to have both neurotrophic and neurotropic properties and regulate the density and distribution of nerve fibers in peripheral tissues. NTs and their receptors are expressed in healthy IVDs but much higher levels have been observed in pathological IVDs, thus suggesting a correlation between levels of expression of NTs and density of innervation in IVDs. In addition, NTs also play a role in inflammatory responses and pain transmission by increasing the expression of pain-related peptides and modulating synapses of nociceptive neurons at the spinal cord. This article reviews current knowledge about the innervation of IVDs, NTs and NT receptors, expression of NTs and their receptors in IVDs as well as in the sensory neurons innervating the IVDs, the proinflammatory role of NTs, NTs as nociception regulators, and the potential network of discogenic pain involving NTs.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cytokines / physiology
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc / innervation*
  • Intervertebral Disc / metabolism
  • Low Back Pain / metabolism
  • Low Back Pain / pathology*
  • Low Back Pain / physiopathology
  • Nerve Growth Factors / physiology*
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / metabolism
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / pathology*
  • Spinal Diseases / metabolism
  • Spinal Diseases / pathology
  • Spinal Diseases / physiopathology


  • Cytokines
  • Nerve Growth Factors