Purpose: The molecular mechanism behind pain in degenerative disc disease (DDD) and chronic low back pain (LBP) patients is largely unknown. This present study examines the association of LBP and disability to mediators of the inflammatory cascade, as indexed by mRNA gene expression of pro-inflammatory cytokine markers in the intervertebral disc (IVD).
Methods: Biopsies of the annulus fibrosus (AF) and the nucleus pulposes (NP) from patients with DDD undergoing 1-2 level fusion surgery at L4/L5 or L5/S1 were obtained from total of 34 patients [9 M, 25 F] with average age of 53 [32-63]. The mRNA expression of TNF-α, IL-1β, and IL-6 in the AF and NP was analyzed using quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR), and the expression level of these markers was correlated to the visual analogue scale (VAS) and Oswestry Disability Index (ODI) scores (0-100) for pain and disability.
Results: We report a statistically significant positive correlation between pain intensity (VAS score) and the expression of TNF-α in both the AF (r = 0.54, p = 0.001) and NP (r = 0.40, p = 0.02), similarly with IL-1β in AF (r = 0.37, p = 0.02) and IL-6 in NP (r = 0.40, p = 0.02). In addition, we found significant positive correlation observed between disability score (ODI) and expression of IL-6 in both AF (r = 0.36, p = 0.03) and NP (r = 0.41, p = 0.01).
Conclusion: We conclude that the intensity of LBP and disability is associated with the level of inflammation in the disc.
Keywords: Degenerative disc; Intervertebral disc; Low back pain; TNF-α; VAS score.