Spontaneous Age-related Cervical Disc Degeneration in the Sand Rat

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Disc space narrowing, osteophytes, and disc degeneration are common and increase with aging. Few animal models are appropriate for the study of spontaneous age-related cervical disc degeneration.


We used the sand rat, a member of the gerbil family with well-recognized age-related lumbar disc degeneration, to determine whether spontaneous cervical disc degeneration differed from lumbar degeneration when evaluated by (1) radiologic and (2) histologic measures. Animals 2 to 25 months of age were used in these analyses.


Cervical and lumbar discs of 99 sand rats were analyzed with radiology, and cervical discs of 67 sand rats were studied with histology. Lateral digital radiographs of cervical and lumbar spines were scored for presence or absence of wedging, disc space narrowing, osteophytes, end plate calcification, and irregular disc margins at C2-C3 through C6-C7 and T12-L1 through L7-S1. Percentages for presence were calculated and statistically analyzed for younger (range, 2-11.9 months old) versus older (range, 12.0-25 months old) animals.


Cervical discs in younger animals exhibited a greater proportion of irregular margins compared with lumbar sites (94% versus 83%; p = 0.02; 95% CI for difference, 2.7, 19.0%). In older animals, cervical discs showed a greater proportion of osteophytes than did lumbar discs (7% versus 0%; p < 0.0001). The incidence of disc space narrowing was greater in cervical versus lumbar sites (99% versus 90%; p = 0.0008). Cervical spine sites which contained osteophytes morphologically showed irregular disc margins and revealed an extrusion of herniated disc material in the osteophytes.


Radiologic and morphologic studies confirmed age-related disc degeneration in the cervical spine of the sand rat.

Clinical Relevance

Clinical cervical aging studies have shown that 14% of asymptomatic subjects younger than 40 years have abnormal MRI scans with an increase to 50% by 50 years old. We studied an economic rodent model for cervical age-related spontaneous disc.

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