Prevalence, morphology, and topography of blood vessels in herniated disc tissue. A comparative immunocytochemical study

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 1996 Aug 15;21(16):1856-63. doi: 10.1097/00007632-199608150-00004.


Study design: Ninety disc herniations removed during surgery were studied by immunocytochemistry, using two different endothelial cell markers, to study the prevalence, morphology, and topography of blood vessels in disc herniations.

Objectives: To increase the specific localization of even very small blood vessels present in disc herniations by using specific antibodies to endothelial cells; to study blood vessels comparatively with two different endothelial cell antibodies, comparing their prevalence; and to study blood vessel morphology and topographic relationships of blood vessels to other tissue elements, particularly disc cells.

Summary of background data: In many previous macroscopic studies and in studies using conventional histologic methodology, blood vessels have been observed in degenerated and injured intervertebral discs. In a smaller patient sample, the authors previously observed blood vessels in approximately 80% of disc herniations by immunocytochemistry, the blood vessels co-localizing with macrophage cells. Many of these blood vessels are the product of very active neovascularization after disc tissue injury. The presence of such blood vessels has not, however, been studied in greater detail or in larger patient samples. Immunocytochemistry offers superior visualization and more specific localization and was thus used in the present study.

Methods: Thin frozen sections from 90 disc herniations were immunostained in parallel with von Willebrand factor and Ulex europaeus antibodies, both of which localize endothelial cells specifically. Indirect immunocytochemistry by avidin-biotin-peroxidase complex or alkaline phosphatase-antialkaline phosphatase were used for immunolocalization. Blood vessels were classified as being: +, abundant: (+), very few; or +, totally absent.

Results: The prevalence of blood vessels in disc herniations was found in 82 of 90 (91%) disc herniations with von Willebrand factor antibody and in 75 of 90 (83%) disc herniations with Ulex europaeus antibody. In 59 disc herniations (66%), blood vessels were observed with both antibodies in parallel, whereas they were observed with neither antibody in only six of 90 disc herniations. Furthermore, the ratio of abundant to very few blood vessels was 73:9 with von Willebrand factor antibody and 63:12 with Ulex europaeus antibody, further supporting the abundance of blood vessels in disc herniations. Blood vessels were most prevalent in sequestrated discs, but they were also observed in six of eight protrusions. Dense blood vessel networks were observed to penetrate the disc tissue, and blood vessels were also present in areas of inflammatory cell infiltration. Topographically, blood vessels were, on several occasions and with both antibodies, seen to pass close by or to surround disc cells.

Conclusions: By immunocytochemistry with endothelial cell markers, blood vessels can be observed to be numerous, and their prevalence in herniated discs is very high, presumably as a result of a very intense neovascularization process after the disc injury. A close apposition to disc cells may suggest attempts to increase the nutrition of these cells and will influence the metabolism of the cells.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Endothelium, Vascular / anatomy & histology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry / methods*
  • Intervertebral Disc / blood supply*
  • Intervertebral Disc / chemistry
  • Intervertebral Disc / pathology
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / pathology*
  • Lectins / analysis
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain / physiopathology
  • Plant Lectins*
  • von Willebrand Factor / analysis


  • Lectins
  • Plant Lectins
  • Ulex europaeus lectins
  • von Willebrand Factor