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A posterolateral lumbar arthrodesis animal model using coralline hydroxyapatite as a bone graft substitute.To determine the effectiveness of coralline hydroxyapatite as a bone graft substitute for lumbar spine fusion when used with bone marrow, autogenous bone graft, or an osteoinductive bone protein extract.Coralline hydroxyapatite is commonly used as a bone graft substitute in metaphysial defects but its use in a more challenging healing environment such as the posterolateral spine remains controversial. There are no published animal studies in which the use of coralline hydroxyapatite has been evaluated in a posterolateral lumbar arthrodesis model.Single-level posterolateral lumbar arthrodesis was performed at L5-L6 in 48 adult New Zealand White rabbits. Rabbits were assigned to one of three groups based on the graft material they received: 3.0 mL coralline hydroxyapatite 1.5 mL plus bone marrow; 1.5 mL coralline hydroxyapatite plus 1.5 mL autogenous iliac crest bone; and, 3.0 mL coralline hydroxyapatite plus 500 μg bovine-derived osteoinductive bone protein extract on each side. Rabbits were killed after 2, 5, or 10 weeks, and the spines were excised and evaluated by manual palpation, radiographs, tensile biomechanical testing, and nondecalcified histology.Fusions were assessed by manual palpation at 5 weeks for comparisons among the three groups of graft materials. The coralline hydroxyapatite used with bone marrow produced no solid fusions (0/14). When combined with an equal amount of autogenous iliac crest bone, coralline hydroxyapatite resulted in solid fusion in 50% (7/14) of the rabbits (P < 0.05). When combined with the osteoinductive growth factor extract, the coralline hydroxyapatite resulted in solid fusion in 100% (11/11) of the rabbits (P < 0.05). The fusion masses in the growth factor group were significantly stronger (1.8 ± 0.2 vs. 1.3 ± 0.1; P = 0.02) and stiffer (1.5 ± 0.2 vs. 1.2 ± 0.1, P = 0.04) based on tensile testing to failure when normalized to the adjacent unfused level.These data indicate that coralline hydroxyapatite with bone marrow was not an acceptable bone graft substitute for posterolateral spine fusion. When combined with autogenous iliac crest bone graft-coralline hydroxyapatite served as a graft extender yielding results comparable to those obtained with autograft alone. Coralline hydroxyapatite served as an excellent carrier for the bovine osteoinductive bone protein extract yielding superior results to those obtained with autograft or bone marrow.