Mechanical loading of the intervertebral disc: from the macroscopic to the cellular level

Eur Spine J. 2014 Jun;23 Suppl 3:S333-43. doi: 10.1007/s00586-013-2855-9. Epub 2013 Jun 21.


Purpose: Mechanical loading represents an integral part of intervertebral disc (IVD) homeostasis. This review aims to summarise recent knowledge on the effects of mechanical loads on the IVD and the disc cells, taking into consideration the changes that IVDs undergo during ageing and degeneration, from the macroscopic to the cellular and subcellular level.

Methods: Non-systematic literature review.

Results: Several scientific papers investigated the external loads that act on the spine and the resulting stresses inside the IVD, which contribute to estimate the mechanical stimuli that influence the cells that are embedded within the disc matrix. As disc cell responses are also influenced by their biochemical environment, recent papers addressed the role that degradation pathways play in the regulation of (1) cell viability, proliferation and differentiation and (2) matrix production and turnover. Special emphasis was put on the intracellular-signalling pathways, as mechanotransduction pathways play an important role in the maintenance of normal disc metabolism and in disc degenerative pathways.

Conclusions: Disc cells are exposed to a wide range of mechanical loads, and the biochemical environment influences their responses. Degeneration-associated alterations of the disc matrix change the biochemical environment of disc cells and also the mechanical properties of the disc matrix. Recent studies indicate that these factors interact and regulate disc matrix turnover.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aging
  • Animals
  • Cell Culture Techniques
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc / physiology*
  • Intervertebral Disc Degeneration / metabolism
  • Intervertebral Disc Degeneration / pathology
  • Mechanotransduction, Cellular
  • Models, Animal