Herniated cervical intervertebral discs spontaneously produce matrix metalloproteinases, nitric oxide, interleukin-6, and prostaglandin E2

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 1995 Nov 15;20(22):2373-8. doi: 10.1097/00007632-199511001-00001.


Study design: Herniated cervical disc specimens were obtained from patients undergoing surgical discectomy for persistent radiculopathy and cultured in vitro to determine whether various biochemical agents were being produced.

Objectives: Our hypothesis is that biochemical mediators of inflammation and tissue degradation play a role in cervical intervertebral disc degeneration and in the pathophysiology of cervical radiculopathy.

Summary of background data: Neck pain with or without radiculopathy is a common clinical problem, but the etiology of neck pain and the exact pathophysiology of radiculopathy remain uncertain. We have previously reported the production of various biochemical agents by herniated lumbar disc specimens in vitro. Because of a lack of such studies in the literature with respect to the cervical spine, the purpose of this study was to determine whether similar biochemical agents of inflammation and tissue degradation were being produced by herniated cervical disc specimens.

Methods: Eighteen herniated cervical discs were obtained from 15 patients undergoing anterior disc surgery. The specimens were cultured and incubated for 72 hours, and the media were subsequently collected for biochemical analysis. Biochemical assays for matrix metalloproteinases, nitric oxide, prostaglandin E2, and a variety of cytokines were performed. As a control group, six cervical discs specimens were obtained from three patients undergoing anterior surgery for traumatic burst fractures, and similar biochemical analyses were performed.

Results: The culture media from the herniated cervical disc specimens showed increased levels of matrix metalloproteinase activity compared with the control discs. Similarly, the levels of nitric oxide, prostaglandin E2, and interleukin-6 were significantly higher in the herniated disc specimens compared with the control discs. Interleukin-1 alpha, interleukin-1 beta, tumor necrosis factor-alpha, interleukin-1 receptor antagonist protein, and substance P were not detected in the culture media of the herniated or control discs.

Conclusions: Herniated cervical disc specimens were making spontaneously increased amounts of matrix metalloproteinases, nitric oxide, prostaglandin E2, and interleukin-6. These results were similar to those obtained in herniated lumbar disc specimens that we have previously reported. These products may be intimately involved in the biochemistry of disc degeneration and the pathophysiology of radiculopathy.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bone Matrix / enzymology
  • Bone Matrix / immunology
  • Bone Matrix / metabolism*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cervical Vertebrae / enzymology
  • Cervical Vertebrae / immunology
  • Cervical Vertebrae / metabolism*
  • Culture Techniques
  • Dinoprostone / biosynthesis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-6 / biosynthesis
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / enzymology
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / immunology
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Metalloendopeptidases / biosynthesis
  • Middle Aged
  • Nitric Oxide / biosynthesis


  • Interleukin-6
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Metalloendopeptidases
  • Dinoprostone