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Mechanoreceptors in Intervertebral Discs: Morphology, Distribution, and Neuropeptides

Roberts, Sally, PhD; Eisenstein, Stephen M., PhD, FRCS; Menage, Janis, HND; Evans, E. Helena, BSc; Ashton, I. Karen, DPhil

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Study Design The present study investigated the occurrence and morphology of mechanoreceptors in human and bovine intervertebral discs and longitudinal ligaments.

Objective To determine the type and frequency of mechanoreceptors present in intervertebral discs and anterior longitudinal ligaments in two patient groups, those with low back pain and those with scoliosis. Bovine coccygeal discs were examined.

Summary of Background Data Nerves have been described in intervertebral tissues, but there is little information on the endings of these nerves and their receptors, stimulation of which can cause a nerve impulse.

Methods The presence of mechanoreceptors were investigated by immunolocalization of nerves and neuropeptides.By examining sequential sections, the frequency of receptors was assessed.

Results Immunoreactivity to neural antigens showed mechanoreceptors in the anulus fibrosus and longitudinal ligaments of bovine and human specimens. Their morphology resembled Pacinian corpuscles, Ruffni endings, and, most frequently, Golgi tendon organs. They were found in 50% of discs investigated from patients with low back pain and in 15% of those with scollosis.

Conclusions Mechanoreceptors were found in the outer 2–3 lamellae of the human intervertebral disc and anterior longitudinal ligament. Physiologic studies in other tissues indicate that these provide the individual with sensation of posture and movement, and in the case of Golgi tendon organs, of nociception. In addition to providing proprioception, mechanoreceptors are thought to have roles in maintaining muscle tone and reflexes. Their presence in the intervertebral disc and longitudinal ligament can have physiologic and clinical implications.

J.P. O'Brein Laboratory, Centre for Spinal Studies, RJAH Orthopaedic & District Hospital, Oswestry, Shropshire, UK.

© Lippincott-Raven Publishers.