Morphological differences in adolescent idiopathic scoliosis: a histological and ultrastructural investigation

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2013 Sep 1;38(19):1672-80. doi: 10.1097/BRS.0b013e31829e0956.


Study design: Histological and ultrastructural evaluation of cell morphologies at the concave and convex side of apical intervertebral discs (IVD) of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS).

Objective: To determine changes in cell morphology, viability, and cell death after asymmetric disc loading in AIS and to compare the findings with the tilt angles.

Summary of background data: The reaction of cells to loading stimuli in the IVD seems to be specific. Although dynamic loads are more beneficial to the disc cells and maintain the matrix biosynthesis, static compressive loads suppress gene expression.

Methods: Apical IVDs (Th8-Th9 to L1-L2) from 10 patients with AIS were studied histologically (including TUNEL [TdT-mediated dUTP-biotin nick end labeling] staining to identify disc cell death by apoptosis) and ultrastructurally for matrix evaluations and to quantify healthy, balloon, chondroptotic, apoptotic, and necrotic cells on the concave and convex sides. Patients' spines were classified according to the Lenke classification. Degeneration was assessed according to the Pfirrmann grading system. Two groups were established; group 1 (G1) with a tilt of 5° to 9° and group 2 (G2) with a tilt of 10° to 19°.

Results: Balloon cells were found in significantly higher numbers at the concave side (G1-annulus fibrosus [AF]: mean 16%), with almost none found at the convex side. Mean numbers of healthy cells did not show differences comparing both sides. Significantly higher numbers of healthy cells were found with increasing tilt angle at the concave side. Necrosis (mean, 47%) increased toward the center of the disc but did not differ between the sides of the IVDs. The fibrils found in the outer AF on the convex side were 30% thinner.

Conclusion: This study was able to show significant differences in cell morphologies in the AF on both sides and in correlation to the different tilt angles. The type and magnitude of load seem to influence disc cells. Further studies are required to provide more information on disc and cell changes in scoliosis.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc / pathology*
  • Intervertebral Disc / ultrastructure*
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / pathology
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / ultrastructure
  • Male
  • Scoliosis / diagnosis*
  • Scoliosis / epidemiology
  • Thoracic Vertebrae / pathology
  • Thoracic Vertebrae / ultrastructure
  • Young Adult