Until recently, material removed from the intervertebral disc (IVD) at surgery consisted either of 'loose bodies' from the centre of the IVD or discal tissue displaced (prolapsed) into the intervertebral root or spinal canals. This material is best regarded as a by-product of disc degeneration and therefore not representative of the disease process itself. Recent advances in surgical techniques, particularly anterior fusion, in which large segments of the anterior part of the IVD are excised with the anatomical relationships between different components intact, have generated material that can be investigated with modern molecular and cell biological techniques. This is an important area of study because degeneration of the lumbar IVDs is associated, perhaps causally, with low back pain, one of the most common and debilitating conditions in the West. 'Degeneration' carries implications of inevitable progression of wear-and-tear associated conditions. Modern research on human IVD tissue has shown that this is far from the case and that disruption of the micro-anatomy described as degeneration is an active process, regulated by locally produced molecules. The exciting consequence of this observation is the possibility of being able to inhibit or even reverse the processes of degeneration using targeted therapy. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
- Angiogenic molecules
- Intervertebral disc degeneration
- Neurogenic molecules