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Loss of nutrient supply to the human intervertebral disc (IVD) cells is thought to be a major cause of disc degeneration in humans. To address this issue, transport of molecules of different size have been analyzed by a combination of experimental and modeling studies. Solute transport has been compared for steady-state and transient diffusion of several different solutes with molecular masses in the range 3-70 kDa, injected into parts of the disc where degeneration is thought most likely to occur first and into the blood supply to the disc. Diffusion coefficients of fluorescently tagged dextran molecules of different molecular weights have been measured in vitro using the concentration gradient technique in thin specimens of disc outer annulus and nucleus pulposus. Diffusion coefficients were found to decrease with molecular weight following a nonlinear relationship. Diffusion coefficients changed more rapidly for solutes with molecular masses less than 10 kDa. Although unrealistic or painful, solutes injected directly into the disc achieve the largest disc coverage with concentrations that would be high enough to be of practical use. Although more practical, solutes injected into the blood supply do not penetrate to the central regions of the disc and their concentrations dissipate more rapidly. Injection into the disc would be the best method to get drugs or growth factors to regions of degeneration in IVDs quickly; else concentrations of solute must be kept at a high value for several hours in the blood supply to the discs.

Original publication




Journal article


Ann N Y Acad Sci

Publication Date





44 - 61


Animals, Biological Transport, Diffusion, Finite Element Analysis, Humans, Intervertebral Disc, Models, Biological