Quantification of Propionic Acid in the Bovine Spinal Disk After Infection of the Tissue With Propionibacteria acnes Bacteria

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Study Design.



The goal of this study was to investigate whether Propionibacteria acnes infection of the intervertebral disc can be detected noninvasively by nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy.

Summary of Background Data.

Microbiological studies of surgical samples suggest that a significant subpopulation of back pain patients may have occult disc infection with P. acnes bacteria. This hypothesis is further supported by a double-blind clinical trial showing that back pain patients with Modic type 1 changes may respond to antibiotic treatment. Because significant side effects are associated with antibiotic treatment, there is a need for a noninvasive method to detect whether specific discs in back pain patients are infected with P acnes bacteria.


P. acnes bacteria were obtained from human patients. NMR detection of a propionic acid (PA) in the bacteria extracts was conducted on 500 MHz high-resolution spectrometer, whereas in vivo NMR spectroscopy of an isolated bovine disk tissue infected with P. acnes was conducted on 7 T magnetic resonance imaging scanner.


NMR spectra of P. acnes metabolites revealed a distinct NMR signal with identical chemical shits (1.05 and 2.18 ppm) as PA (a primary P. acne metabolite). The 1.05 ppm signal does not overlap with other bacteria metabolites, and its intensity increases linearly with P. acnes concentration. Bovine disks injected with P. acnes bacteria revealed a very distinct NMR signal at 1.05 ppm, which linearly increased with P. acnes concentration.


The 1.05 ppm NMR signal from PA can be used as a marker of P. acnes infection of discs. This signal does not overlap with other disc metabolites and linearly depends on P. acnes concentration. Consequently, NMR spectroscopy may provide a noninvasive method to detect disc infection in the clinical setting.


Level of Evidence: N/A

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