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Severe Impingement of Lumbar Disc Replacements Increases the Functional Biological Activity of Polyethylene Wear Debris
Ryan M. Baxter, MS1; Daniel W. MacDonald, MS1; Steven M. Kurtz, PhD1; Marla J. Steinbeck, PhD1
1 Implant Research Center, School of Biomedical Engineering, Science & Health Systems, Drexel University, 3401 Market Street, Suite 345, Philadelphia, PA 19104. E-mail address for M.J. Steinbeck: mjs348@drexel.edu
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Investigation performed at Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Disclosure: One or more 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 an aspect of this work. In addition, 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 Jun 05;95(11):e75 1-9. doi: 10.2106/JBJS.K.00522
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Wear, oxidation, and particularly rim impingement damage of ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene total disc replacement components have been observed following surgical revision. However, neither in vitro testing nor retrieval-based evidence has shown the effect(s) of impingement on the characteristics of polyethylene wear debris. Thus, we sought to determine (1) differences in polyethylene particle size, shape, number, or biological activity that correspond to mild or severe rim impingement and (2) in an analysis of all total disc replacements, regardless of impingement classification, whether there are correlations between the extent of regional damage and the characteristics of polyethylene wear debris.


The extent of dome and rim damage was characterized for eleven retrieved polyethylene cores obtained at revision surgery after an average duration of implantation of 9.7 years (range, 4.6 to 16.1 years). Polyethylene wear debris was isolated from periprosthetic tissues with use of nitric acid and was imaged with use of environmental scanning electron microscopy. Subsequently, particle size, shape, number, biological activity, and chronic inflammation scores were determined.


Grouping of particles by size ranges that represented high biological relevance (<0.1 to 1-μm particles), intermediate biological relevance (1 to 10-μm particles), and low biological relevance (>10-μm particles) revealed an increased volume fraction of particles in the <0.1 to 1-μm and 1 to 10-μm size ranges in the mild-impingement cohort as compared with the severe-impingement cohort. The increased volume fractions resulted in a higher specific biological activity per unit particle volume in the mild-impingement cohort than in the severe-impingement cohort. However, functional biological activity, which is normalized by particle volume (mm3/g of tissue), was significantly higher in the severe-impingement cohort. This increase was due to a larger volume of particles in all three size ranges. In both cohorts, the functional biological activity correlated with the chronic inflammatory response, and the extent of rim penetration positively correlated with increasing particle size, number, and functional biological activity.


The results of this study suggest that severe rim impingement increases the production of biologically relevant particles from motion-preserving lumbar total disc replacement components.

Level of Evidence: 

Prognostic Level IV. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

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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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