Are viruses associated with disc herniation? A clinical case series

B. F. Walker, A. J. Armson, M. A. O'Dea, J. R. White, C. R.P. Lind, P. R. Woodland

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BACKGROUND: There is some limited evidence for the presence of viruses in herniated disc material including a previous case series that claimed to provide "unequivocal evidence of the presence of herpes virus DNA in intervertebral disc specimens of patients with lumbar disc herniation suggesting the potential role of herpes viruses as a contributing factor to the pathogenesis of degenerative disc disease". This study has not been replicated. The objective of our study was to determine if viruses were present in herniated disc fragments in participants with a prior history of back pain. METHODS: We recruited fifteen participants with a history of prior low-back pain prior to undergoing disc herniation surgery in the lumbar spine. Harvested disc samples were subject to next generation sequencing for detection of both RNA and DNA viral pathogens. Additionally, samples were analysed by a broadly reactive PCR targeting herpesviral DNA. Ethics approval was granted by the Human Research Ethics Committees of both Murdoch University, and St John of God Hospital, Western Australia. RESULTS: Of the fifteen research participants, 8 were female. Mean age was 49.4 years (SD 14.5 yrs) with a range of 24-70 years. All participants had prior back pain with mean time since first ever attack being 8.8 years (SD 8.8 yrs). No samples contained significant DNA sequences relating to known human viral agents. Inconsequential retroviral sequences were commonly found and were a mixture of putative animal and human retroviral protein coding segments. All samples were negative for herpesvirus DNA when analysed by pan-herpesvirus PCR. CONCLUSIONS: This study found no viral pathogens in any intervertebral disc fragments of patients who had previous back pain and underwent discectomy for disc herniation and thus it is unlikely that viruses are associated with disc herniation, however given the contradiction between key studies enhanced replication of this experiment is recommended.

Original languageEnglish
Article number27
Number of pages1
JournalBMC Musculoskeletal Disorders
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jan 2020


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