Spatially Varying Material Properties of the Rat Caudal Intervertebral Disc

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Study Design.The use of a microscopy based material testing technique to assess the local material properties of rat caudal intervertebral discs under uniaxial compression.Objectives.To better understand the cell environment of rat caudal intervertebral discs during mechanical loading and elucidate better the role of the nucleus pulposus to the overall disc material properties.Summary of Background Data.Rat tail models of disc degeneration have been widely used for their similarity with the degeneration phenomena in human beings. Degenerative patterns in the disc are often inhomogeneous, however, only average material properties of rodent discs have been studied. Knowledge of the spatially varying properties within the disc is necessary to understand the disc cell milieu during tissue loading.Methods.Rat caudal motion segments were tested intact, sectioned, and with alterations of nucleus pulposus using microscopy based techniques. Local displacements and strains were obtained using digital image correlation. Strains and load measurements were used to get the average apparent Young’s modulus, peak stress, local Young’s modulus, and local Poisson’s ratio.Results.There was no difference observed in the average apparent Young’s modulus among experimental groups. Peak stresses decreased significantly when the nucleus pulposus was replaced with extremely fluid-like materials. The axial displacement field showed 3 distinct linear distributions in samples which were sectioned. The center region in all groups had significantly smaller axial strain and showed a higher local Young’s modulus.Conclusions.The average equilibrium Young’s modulus may be dependent on short-range ultrastructural organization. Spatially varying material properties within the intervertebral disc may be caused by orientation of fiber bundles in the different regions of the anulus fibrosus. The fiber bundles are better able to resist compressive loads when oriented parallel rather than perpendicular to the loading direction. At equilibrium, the anulus fibrosus also appears to have a shielding effect independent of the material filling up the nucleus pulposus space.

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