Morphology of the human vertebral endplate

J Orthop Res. 2012 Feb;30(2):280-7. doi: 10.1002/jor.21513. Epub 2011 Aug 2.


It is presumed that poor intervertebral disc cell nutrition is a contributing factor in degeneration, and is exacerbated by vertebral endplate sclerosis. Yet, quantitative relationships between endplate morphology and degeneration are unavailable. We investigated how endplate bone microstructure relates to indices of disc degeneration, such as morphologic grade, proteoglycan content, and cell density. Intervertebral core samples [n = 96, 14 subjects, L1-L5 level, ages 35-85 (64 ± 16 years), degeneration grade 1 (n = 4), grade 2 (n = 32), grade 3 (n = 44), grade 4 (n = 10), grade 5 (n = 6)] that included subchondral bone, cartilage endplate, and adjacent nucleus were harvested from human cadaveric lumbar spines. The morphology of the vertebral endplate was analyzed using µCT and the adjacent nucleus tissue was collected for biochemical and cellular analyses. Relationships between vertebral endplate morphology and adjacent disc degeneration were analyzed. Contrary to the prevailing notion, vertebral endplate porosity increased between 50% and 130% and trabecular thickness decreased by between 20% and 50% with advancing disc degeneration (p < 0.05). We also observed that nucleus cell density increased (R(2) = 0.33, p < 0.05) and proteoglycan content decreased (R(2) = 0.47, p < 0.05) as the endplate became more porous. Our data suggest that endplate sclerosis is not a fundamental factor contributing to disc degeneration. Rather, the opposite was observed in our samples, as the endplate became progressively more porous with age and degeneration. Since ischemic disc cell behavior is commonly associated with degenerative change, this may be related to other factors such as the quality of vertebral capillaries, as opposed to decreased permeability of intervening tissues.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / pathology
  • Cell Count
  • Female
  • Glycosaminoglycans / analysis
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc / pathology*
  • Intervertebral Disc Degeneration / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Permeability


  • Glycosaminoglycans