Objective: Characterize 3D remodeling of the rat intervertebral disc (IVD) following acute annular injury via in vivo micro-computed tomography (µCT), ex vivo contrast-enhanced (CE)-µCT, and histology. Design: Female Lewis rats (N = 4/group) underwent either sham surgery or anterior annular puncture to L3-L4 and L5-L6 (n = 8 IVDs/group) to induce IVD degeneration. Rats were allowed ad libidum cage activity before and after surgery and underwent in vivo µCT scanning at baseline and every 2 weeks post-op for 12 weeks to characterize longitudinal changes in IVD height. At 12 weeks, lumbar spines were dissected and underwent CE-µCT scanning to characterize endpoint glycosaminoglycan distribution and nucleus pulposus (NP) volume ratio. Spines were processed for safranin-O-stained sagittal histology, and IVD degeneration was graded via the Rutges scale. Results: Puncture IVDs exhibited loss of IVD height at all time points from 4 weeks onward compared to Sham-the most severe height loss occurred posteriorly, with significant changes also occurring in the NP and laterally. Puncture IVDs exhibited higher CE-µCT attenuation, indicative of lower glycosaminoglycan content, and reduced NP volume ratio compared to Sham. Histologically, Puncture IVDs had higher Rutges damage scores and exhibited reduced NP cellularity and hydration, disorganized annulus fibrosus (AF) lamellae with evidence of the stab tract, and indistinct AF-NP border compared to Sham. Conclusions: Characterization of the complex, 3D alterations involved in the onset and early progression of IVD degeneration can foster greater understanding of the pathoetiology of IVD degeneration and may inform future studies assessing more sensitive diagnostic techniques or novel therapies.
Keywords: Intervertebral disc; annular puncture; contrast-enhanced micro-computed tomography; degenerative disc disease; micro-computed tomography.