A radiological and biochemical perspective on ageing and degeneration of the human thoracic intervertebral disc

Celia Tan

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Disc degenerative changes are directly or indirectly associated with spinal pain and disability. Literature revealed a high prevalence of disc degeneration in the thoracic region, however thoracic MRI degeneration trends and information on disc biochemical matrix constituents are limited for thoracic discs compared to lumbar and cervical discs. The objective of this thesis was to use MRI to investigate the prevalence of disc degenerative changes affecting the human thoracic spine, and to determine the factors affecting spinal disc biochemical matrix. A 3-point subjective MRI grading scale was used to grade the films. The feasibility of using archived formalin-fixed cadaver material was investigated to analyse collagen and elastin crosslinks. The prevalence of degenerative changes in human thoracic discs and vertebrae (T1 to T12) was determined retrospectively from an audit of 216 MRI cases, using sagittal T1- and T2-weighted MR images. In a subsequent series of ex-vivo studies, human thoracic discs and LF from 26 formalin-fixed and two fresh spines, involving all thoracic levels, were examined macroscopically to determine the degeneration status. Subsequently, disc and ligament tissues were analysed biochemically for collagen (pyridinoline and deoxypyridinoline) and elastin (desmosine and isodesmosine) crosslinks. These crosslinks were extracted from hydrolysed samples by cellulose partition chromatography, and analysed by reverse-phase HPLC. Collagen content was determined using its hydroxyproline content, and proteoglycan content was assayed using a modified DMB assay for chondroitin sulphate. Finally the MRI and macroscopic assessments of thoracic discs, were compared with the biochemical data from two fresh cadaver thoracic spines. The 3-point MRI grading scale had a high inter- (k = 0.57 to 0.78) and intra-rater (k = 0.71 to 0.87) reliability. There were no significant differences in the collagen and elastin content and extent of collagen crosslinks between formalin fixed and unfixed ligament and disc tissues, after 25 weeks of formalin fixation. From the in-vivo MRI series of investigations (n = 216 MRI films), the prevalence of thoracic disc degenerative and vertebral morphological changes revealed significant age, gender and spinal level trends (p <0.05).
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2004


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