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In this study we have considered how equilibrium water content of the human nucleus pulposus varies with applied pressure for discs of various spinal levels and of various ages. In all cases hydration decreased as pressure increased but the level of equilibrium hydration depended on the relative amounts of collagen and PG in the tissue. Provided we accounted for the exclusion of PGs from the intra-fibrillar space, the swelling pressure curve and the osmotic pressure curve of equivalent PGs were found to coincide. The result implies that under physiological hydrations the mechanical forces exerted by the collagen network of the nucleus are insignificant and that the osmotic pressure of the proteoglycans is balanced by the applied pressure arising from body weight and muscle and ligament tension alone. Since aged discs often have a low proteoglycan to collagen ratio, their equilibrium hydration also tends to be low. Moreover a far larger proportion of the total water is associated with the collagen than in the younger disc.


Journal article



Publication Date





145 - 157


Adolescent, Adult, Aged, Aging, Body Water, Collagen, Humans, Intervertebral Disc, Joint Diseases, Lumbar Vertebrae, Middle Aged, Pressure, Proteoglycans, Rheology