ISSLS Prize Winner: A Detailed Examination of the Elastic Network Leads to a New Understanding of Annulus Fibrosus Organization.
Yu J., Schollum ML., Wade KR., Broom ND., Urban JPG.
STUDY DESIGN: Investigation of the elastic network in disc annulus and its function. OBJECTIVE: To investigate the involvement of the elastic network in the structural interconnectivity of the annulus and to examine its possible mechanical role. SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND DATA: The lamellae of the disc are now known to consist of bundles of collagen fibers organized into compartments. There is strong interconnectivity between adjacent compartments and between adjacent lamellae, possibly aided by a translamellar bridging network, containing blood vessels. An elastic network exists across the disc annulus and is particularly dense between the lamellae, and forms crossing bridges within the lamellae. METHODS: Blocks of annulus taken from bovine caudal discs were studied in either their unloaded or radially stretched state then fixed and sectioned, and their structure analyzed optically using immunohistology. RESULTS: An elastic network enclosed the collagen compartments, connecting the compartments with each other and with the elastic network of adjacent lamellae, formed an integrated network across the annulus, linking it together. Stretching experiments demonstrated the mechanical interconnectivities of the elastic fibers and the collagen compartments. CONCLUSION: The annulus can be viewed as a modular structure organized into compartments of collagen bundles enclosed by an elastic sheath. The elastic network of these sheaths is interconnected mechanically across the entire annulus. This organization is also seen in the modular structure of tendon and muscle. The results provide a new understanding annulus structure and its interconnectivity, and contribute to fundamental structural information relevant to disc tissue engineering and mechanical modeling. LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: N/A.