Computed tomography-guided percutaneous biopsy for vertebral osteomyelitis: a department's experience

Neurosurg Focus. 2014 Aug;37(2):E10. doi: 10.3171/2014.6.FOCUS14134.


Object: Vertebral osteomyelitis has been reported to occur in approximately 0.2-2 cases per 100,000 annually. Elevated laboratory values such as erythrocyte sedimentation rate and C-reactive protein suggest inflammatory etiologies. Different imaging modalities, from radiography and CT scanning to nuclear medicine imaging and contrastenhanced MRI, can be employed to evaluate for osteomyelitis. Although MRI has a strong sensitivity and specificity for vertebral osteomyelitis, obtaining histological and microbiological samples remains the gold standard in diagnosis. Therapy can be geared toward the specific pathogen cultured, thereby preventing the need surgical intervention in the majority of cases. However, recent reports have questioned the percentage yield of image-guided percutaneous biopsy even when there is a high clinical suspicion for vertebral osteomyelitis.

Methods: After obtaining institutional review board approval, the authors performed a chart review of patients who had undergone image-guided percutaneous bone biopsies at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio. Data were filtered for patients in whom a biopsy sample of a vertebral body/disc was obtained. A total of 213 procedures were performed, of which clinicians indicated a concern for infection in 84, infection or neoplasm in 13, and a noninfectious etiology (the majority being neoplasms) in the remaining 116.

Results: Histological examination provided positive results in 25 (41.0%) of the 61 samples collected for suspected cases of osteomyelitis. Microbiology samples were less predictive, with only 16 of the 84 samples collected, or 19.0%, yielding a positive result. In 10 patients there were positive blood and/or urine cultures. Of these, 8 samples (80%) demonstrated the same pathogen identified by biopsy (for the remaining 2 positive systemic cultures, no pathogen was identified by the percutaneous intervention). In other words, half of the 16 cases that provided microbiological results from biopsy demonstrated the same results by systemic cultures. However, 89 (76.7%) of the 116 samples collected with the primary concern of neoplasm yielded results.

Conclusions: Image-guided percutaneous biopsy for vertebral osteomyelitis demonstrates an extremely low probability of identifying specific microbes. Blood or urine cultures concurrently identified culprit pathogens in 50% of positive biopsy cultures. Therefore, in only 8 (9.5%) of 84 biopsies did the biopsy results provide additional information to clinicians as to the pathological microorganism present and how treatment might need to be adjusted.

Keywords: CRP = C-reactive protein; CT-guided biopsy; ESR = erythrocyte sedimentation rate; WBC = white blood cell; spondylitis; vertebral osteomyelitis.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Biopsy*
  • Cervical Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteomyelitis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Osteomyelitis / drug therapy
  • Osteomyelitis / microbiology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents