Acute effects of nucleus pulposus on blood flow and endoneurial fluid pressure in rat dorsal root ganglia

S Yabuki, S Kikuchi, K Olmarker, R R Myers
Spine 1998 December 1, 23 (23): 2517-23

STUDY DESIGN: An experimental study to elucidate the initial factors in the pathogenesis of lumbar pain caused by disc herniation.

OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the effects of autologous nucleus pulposus on blood flow and endoneurial fluid pressure in dorsal root ganglia.

SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND DATA: Human sciatica is known to be associated with compression of lumbar nerve roots and dorsal root ganglia by herniated intervertebral discs. Recently, it has been shown that application of nucleus pulposus to nerve roots induces injury and pain-related behavior in experimental animals. In this study, the authors hypothesized that nucleus pulposus applied to a nerve root would cause increased intraneural edema and reduced blood flow in the corresponding dorsal root ganglia. Studies in peripheral nerves have shown that these initial pathophysiologic disturbances initiate complex events that exacerbate nerve injury and cause pain.

METHODS: A total of 29 adult female Sprague-Dawley rats weighing 200 to 250 g had their left L5 nerve roots and associated dorsal root ganglia exposed. Autologous nucleus pulposus was harvested from the tail and applied to the L5 nerve root just proximally to the dorsal root ganglia (nucleus pulposus group). For control, the same volume of muscle was harvested from the surgical area in the back and applied similarly to the neural tissue (control group). Blood flow was continuously monitored using a laser Doppler flow probe for 3 hours (n = 10) or 4 hours (n = 8) in animals with indwelling cannulas for measurement of systemic arterial pressure. Endoneurial fluid pressures were recorded with a servonull micropipette system using glass micropipettes with tip diameters of 4 microns. Endoneurial fluid pressure in the dorsal root ganglia was measured before and 3 hours after application of nucleus pulposus (n = 7) or muscle (n = 4). After measurement of blood flow and endoneurial fluid pressure, the nerve root and dorsal root ganglia were processed for histology and evaluated by light microscope.

RESULTS: Blood flow in the nucleus pulposus group was reduced by 10% to 20% from the initial value after 3 to 4 hours. This reduction was statistically significant compared with that of the control group (P < 0.01). Endoneurial fluid pressure was initially 2.6 +/- 1.2 cm H2O in the nucleus pulposus group, and 2.1 +/- 0.6 cm H2O in the control group. Three hours after application, endoneurial fluid pressure was 7.5 +/- 4.6 in the nucleus pulposus group (P > 0.05), and 2.0 +/- 0.8 in the control group (P > 0.05). Edema was the principal pathologic finding seen consistently in the nerve roots and in many of the associated dorsal root ganglia from animals treated with nucleus pulposus.

CONCLUSION: Application of nucleus pulposus to nerve root increased endoneurial fluid pressure and decreased blood flow in the dorsal root ganglia. This study's acute observations in the dorsal root ganglia may thus help to explain why disc herniations without compression of neural tissue are sometimes painful because similar pathologic findings are observed after only nucleus pulposus application to the nerve root. The authors further suggest that exposure of nerve roots to nucleus pulposus may establish a "compartment syndrome" in the dorsal root ganglia.

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