Intervertebral Disc-on-a-Chip as Advanced In Vitro Model for Mechanobiology Research and Drug Testing: A Review and Perspective

Front Bioeng Biotechnol. 2022 Jan 28:9:826867. doi: 10.3389/fbioe.2021.826867. eCollection 2021.


Discogenic back pain is one of the most diffused musculoskeletal pathologies and a hurdle to a good quality of life for millions of people. Existing therapeutic options are exclusively directed at reducing symptoms, not at targeting the underlying, still poorly understood, degenerative processes. Common intervertebral disc (IVD) disease models still do not fully replicate the course of degenerative IVD disease. Advanced disease models that incorporate mechanical loading are needed to investigate pathological causes and processes, as well as to identify therapeutic targets. Organs-on-chip (OoC) are microfluidic-based devices that aim at recapitulating tissue functions in vitro by introducing key features of the tissue microenvironment (e.g., 3D architecture, soluble signals and mechanical conditioning). In this review we analyze and depict existing OoC platforms used to investigate pathological alterations of IVD cells/tissues and discuss their benefits and limitations. Starting from the consideration that mechanobiology plays a pivotal role in both IVD homeostasis and degeneration, we then focus on OoC settings enabling to recapitulate physiological or aberrant mechanical loading, in conjunction with other relevant features (such as inflammation). Finally, we propose our view on design criteria for IVD-on-a-chip systems, offering a future perspective to model IVD mechanobiology.

Keywords: degenerative disc disease (DDD); intervertebral disc; mechanical loading; mechanobiology; microphysiological device design; organ-on-a-chip.

Publication types

  • Review