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Morphometrics and Lesions of Vertebral End Plates Are Associated with Lumbar Disc DegenerationEvidence from Cadaveric Spines
Yue Wang, MD, PhD1; Tapio Videman, MD, PhD2; Michele C. Battié, PhD2
1 Department of Orthopedic Surgery, The First Affiliated Hospital of the Medical School of Zhejiang University, Hangzhou 310003, People’s Republic of China
2 Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB T6G 2G4, Canada. E-mail address for M.C. Battié: mc.battie@ualberta.ca
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Investigation performed at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Disclosure: None of the authors received payments or services, either directly or indirectly (i.e., via his or her institution), from a third party in support of any aspect of this work. One or more of the authors, or his or her institution, has had a financial relationship, in the thirty-six months prior to submission of this work, with an entity in the biomedical arena that could be perceived to influence or have the potential to influence what is written in this work. No author has had any other relationships, or has engaged in any other activities, that could be perceived to influence or have the potential to influence what is written in this work. The complete Disclosures of Potential Conflicts of Interest submitted by authors are always provided with the online version of the article.

Copyright © 2013 by The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Inc.
J Bone Joint Surg Am, 2013 Mar 06;95(5):e26 1-7. doi: 10.2106/JBJS.L.00124
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Prior studies have suggested that vertebral end plate morphometrics and lesions may play a role in disc degeneration. However, most prior end plate studies have been based on radiographic images, and findings of associations between end plate morphometrics (measurements of size and shape) and disc degeneration remain controversial. The present study investigated the prevalence of vertebral end plate lesions and determined end plate morphometrics through direct measurements of cadaveric spines, and it examined the association of these factors with disc degeneration.


We studied 600 vertebral end plates and 313 intervertebral discs from the cadaveric lumbosacral spines of seventy-six men (mean age, fifty-one years). Discography was performed to evaluate disc degeneration as indicated by disruption of the anulus fibrosus. The shape of the vertebral end plate and the presence of any lesions were visually evaluated. Lesions were rated as absent, small to moderate, or large. In addition, each end plate was digitized to quantify its area, circularity, and concavity. The association of end plate morphometrics and lesions with disc degeneration was examined.


Vertebral end plate lesions were found in 72% (fifty-five) of the seventy-six lumbar spines and in 32.8% (197) of the 600 end plates. The presence of end plate lesions was associated with disc degeneration, with larger lesions being associated with more severe disc degeneration (odds ratio, 2.31 for small to moderate lesions [p < 0.01] and 3.54 for large lesions [p < 0.001]). Greater end plate area was also associated with more severe disc degeneration (odds ratio, 1.2 per cm2 [p < 0.05]).


Vertebral end plate lesions were common and were associated with adjacent disc degeneration, with greater lesion size being associated with more severe disc degeneration. End plate morphometrics, particularly greater end plate size, may also play a role in the pathogenesis of disc degeneration.

Clinical Relevance: 

This study suggests that the integrity of the vertebral end plate is essential to maintaining disc health. The prevalence of end plate lesions may be underestimated on standard clinical images.

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    These activities have been planned and implemented in accordance with the Essential Areas and policies of the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) through the joint sponsorship of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Inc. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons is accredited by the ACCME to provide continuing medical education for physicians.
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