Comparison between sheep and human cervical spines: an anatomic, radiographic, bone mineral density, and biomechanical study

F Kandziora, R Pflugmacher, M Scholz, K Schnake, M Lucke, R Schröder, T Mittlmeier
Spine 2001 May 1, 26 (9): 1028-37

STUDY DESIGN: The quantitative anatomic, radiographic, computerized tomographic, and biomechanical data of sheep and human cervical spines were evaluated.

OBJECTIVES: To compare the anatomic, radiographic, computerized tomographic, and biomechanical data of human and sheep cervical spines to determine whether the sheep spine is a suitable model for human spine research.

SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND DATA: Sheep spines have been used in several in vivo and in vitro experiments. Quantitative data of the normal sheep cervical spine are lacking, yet these data are crucial to discussion about the results of such animal studies.

METHODS: In this study, 20 fresh adult female Merino sheep cervical spines and 20 fresh human cadaver cervical spines were evaluated anatomically, radiographically, computerized tomographically, and biomechanically. Three linear and two angular parameters were evaluated on four digital radiographic views: anteroposterior, right lateral in neutral position, flexion, and extension. Quantitative computed tomography scans at the center of each vertebral body and 3 mm below both endplates were analyzed for bone mineral density measurements. Biomechanical testing was performed in flexion, extension, axial rotation, and lateral bending by a nondestructive stiffness method using a nonconstrained testing apparatus. Range of motion and stiffness of each motion segment were calculated. Additionally, 10 linear anatomic parameters of each vertebra were measured using a digital ruler.

RESULTS: Anterior and mean disc space height in the sheep cervical spine increased constantly from C2-C3 to C6-C7, whereas middle disc space height decreased and posterior disc space height remained unchanged. Anterior and mean disc space height were significantly higher in sheep. In both sheep and human cervical spines, intervertebral angles were not significantly different. Standard deviations of bone mineral density in the human cervical spine were fourfold higher than in the sheep cervical spine, yet no significant differences were found in bone mineral density values between the two species. Range of motion differed significantly between the two species except in flexion-extension of C3-C4, C5-C6, axial rotation of C2-C3, and lateral bending of C2-C3, C3-C4, and C4-C5. Stiffness also was significantly different except in flexion-extension of C2-C3, C4-C5, C5-C6, and lateral bending of C2-C3, C3-C4, and C4-C5. Anatomic evaluation showed no difference in upper endplate parameters for C4 and C5.

CONCLUSIONS: Although several differences were found between human and sheep cervical spines, the small intergroup standard deviations and the good comparability with the human spine encourage the use of the sheep cervical spine as a model for cervical spine research. On the basis of the quantitative data obtained in this study, the sheep motion segment C3-C4 seemed to be the most reliable model for the corresponding human motion segment.

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