An animal model of intervertebral disc degeneration induced surgically by ventral nuclear herniation in the rabbit produces morphologic changes of disc degeneration. Histologic characteristics and proteoglycan changes have been studied at various times after herniation. After injury, there was metaplasia into fibrocartilage originating from the cells along the margins of the annular wound, with proliferation of cells changing almost the entire disc space into fibrocartilage. A vertebral osteophyte occurred through an endochondral ossification sequence. Aggregating proteoglycans had two periods of repletion in the early course of degeneration. The water content of the disc was rapidly but only transiently restored in the first two days after herniation, whilst the changes in the total proteoglycan content of the disc paralleled these changes. Hyaluronic acid content decreased rapidly after herniation, but the size of the proteoglycan monomers did not change with degeneration. It is suggested that loss of confined fluid mechanics signals an abortive repair attempt rather than that of biochemical changes in proteoglycans initiate disc degeneration.