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Ultrastructural Changes in Paravertebral Muscles Associated With Degenerative Spondylolisthesis

Ramsbacher, Josef MD*; Theallier-Janko, Agota MD†; Stoltenburg-Didinger, Gisela MD† and; Brock, Mario MD*


Study Design. The paravertebral muscle of 30 patients with spondylolisthesis and 30 control patients were investigated histologically.

Objective. To propose myopathologic paravertebral muscle changes in cases of degenerative lumbar spondylolisthesis.

Summary of Background Data. The stability of the vertebral column is based on both active and passive systems. The passive system is composed of the vertebrae, the intervertebral discs, and the ligaments. Surrounding muscles and tendons constitute the active system. The autochthonous back muscles take over support functions if the passive system is ineffective. In some cases, muscles are overstrained for a long period, ultimately leading to muscular changes. This study was performed to determine the histopathologic correlates of this permanent strain.

Methods. Between July 1998 and July 1999, paravertebral muscle biopsies were performed for 30 patients with monosegmental degenerative spondylolisthesis undergoing posterior lumbar interbody fusion. The tissue samples were submitted to histologic analysis including immune and enzyme histochemistry and electron microscopy. In addition, the muscle fibers were submitted to morphometry.

Results. Severe pathologic alterations were found. The findings showed that 22 patients (73.3%) had ragged red fibers with evident ultrastructural mitochondrial anomalies. The cristae appeared irregular in 12 patients (40%) Type 1 paracrystalline inclusions were detected in five samples (16.6%) and dense bodies in eight (26.6%). Fibers with ubiquitin-positive inclusions were detected by immunohistochemistry in 13 patients (43.3%). As shown by the electron microscope, these corresponded to granulofilamentous inclusions and polyglucosan bodies. The samples were submitted to genetical analysis because biochemical studies showed reduced activity of the respiratory chain enzymes. Normal mitochondrial deoxyribonucleic acids of unchanged length were detected.

Conclusions. Apart from nonspecific myopathic changes such as those observed in rimmed vacuoles and rods, increased numbers of polyglucosan bodies were detected. This increase in polyglucosan bodies currently has not been described in patients with otherwise normal muscles.

From the Departments of *Neurosurgery and †Neuropathology, University Hospital Benjamin Franklin, Free University of Berlin, Germany.

Acknowledgment date: July 5, 2000.

First revision date: October 16, 2000.

Second revision date: January 22, 2001.

Acceptance date: February 16, 2001.

Address reprint requests to

Josef Ramsbacher, MD

University Medical Center Benjamin Franklin

Free University of Berlin

Department of Neurosurgery

Hindenburgdamm 30, D-12200




Device status category: 1.

Conflict of interest category 12.

© 2001 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.