Inflammatory cytokines in the herniated disc of the lumbar spine

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 1996 Jan 15;21(2):218-24. doi: 10.1097/00007632-199601150-00011.


Study design: Tissues in the area of herniated lumbar discs were examined for inflammatory cytokines to elucidate the causes of sciatic pain in lumbar disc herniation.

Objectives: To determine the role of inflammatory cytokines in the stimulation of sciatic pain in lumbar disc herniation.

Summary of background data: It is postulated that in addition to mechanical compression of lumbar nerve roots and sensory root ganglia by herniated discs, there is a chemical stimulus to the production of sciatic leg pain. The exact mechanisms of chemical stimulation are not clearly defined.

Methods: During surgery, cases of lumbar disc herniation in 77 patients were classified macroscopically into protrusion, extrusion, and sequestration types. Tissues adjacent to nerve roots at the herniation were excised and analyzed biochemically and immunohistochemically for the presence of inflammatory cytokines and for the production of these cytokines and prostaglandin E2 in vitro.

Results: The homogenates of samples were analyzed for interleukin-1 alpha, interleukin-1 beta, interleukin-6, tumor necrosis factor-alpha, and granulocyte-macrophage colony stimulating factor, which were detectable. Most of the cytokine-producing cells were histiocytes, fibroblasts, or endothelial cells in extrusion and sequestration types, and chondrocytes in protrusion type. The secretion of these cytokines and prostaglandin E2 was decreased by the addition of betamethasone. The prostaglandin E2 production was dramatically enhanced by additional interleukin-1 alpha, but decreased by the addition of tumor necrosis factor-alpha.

Conclusion: The results demonstrate that at the site of lumbar disc herniation, inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin-1 alpha are produced, which increases prostaglandin E2 production. Further studies are required to elucidate the role of inflammatory cytokines in causing sciatic pain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Dinoprostone / analysis*
  • Granulocyte-Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Interleukins / analysis*
  • Interleukins / pharmacology
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement* / pathology
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / chemistry*
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / pathology
  • Sciatica / etiology
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / analysis*
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / pharmacology


  • Interleukins
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Granulocyte-Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor
  • Dinoprostone