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Cell Deformation and Micromechanical Environment in the Intervertebral Disc
Neil A. Duncan, BEng, PhD
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In support of his research for or preparation of this manuscript, the author received grants or outside funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Canada Research Chair in Orthopaedic Bioengineering, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and the Whitaker Foundation. The author did not receive payments or other benefits or a commitment or agreement to provide such benefits from a commercial entity. No commercial entity paid or directed, or agreed to pay or direct, any benefits to any research fund, foundation, educational institution, or other charitable or nonprofit organization with which the author is affiliated or associated.
Note: The author acknowledges his colleagues, Drs. J.R. Matyas and J.B. Rattner, for their close collaboration; graduate students Dr. S.B. Bruehlmann, P. Hulme, E. Kelly, and M. van der Werf, who were involved in this research and who were so essential to conducting the biomedical engineering research.

The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Incorporated
J Bone Joint Surg Am, 2006 Apr 01;88(suppl 2):47-51. doi: 10.2106/JBJS.F.00035
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The purpose of this research was to explore the in situ anatomic and mechanical environment of disc cells. Laser scanning confocal microscopy was used to characterize three-dimensional morphology of intervertebral disc cells, micromechanical deformation and interaction with extracellular matrix, and functional intercellular communication. Bovine coccygeal discs were used for both the anatomic and micromechanical investigations.

Anulus fibrosus cells had a complex morphology with sinuous processes woven into the extracellular matrix, particularly in the outer aspect of the anulus where they were also interconnected via functional gap junctions. They were also found in an extensive pericellular matrix of type-VI collagen, joining as many as ten cells into linear cell arrays that could be extracted from the matrix as functional units. Mechanically, collagen fibril sliding was demonstrated to govern cell mechanics and strain transfer in the anulus fibrosus during loading activities. Lamellar cells were largely protected from direct tensile strains in the matrix, with minimal intercellular strains. However, intercellular strains between lamellar cells in adjacent arrays were large, illustrating shearing between linear cell arrays. Appreciable shear was observed across the lamellar cell bodies as well as to the cellular processes woven into the matrix. These findings demonstrated the morphologic and micromechanical complexity of anulus fibrosus cells. The knowledge of the in situ environment of disc cells will provide a base to investigate the mechanical implications of disc degeneration on the cellular environment and to better understand how mechanical and genetic risk factors can impact the cells that are essential to maintaining the intervertebral disc.

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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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