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Crystal Deposition Observed in Intervertebral Discs

Up to 15 percent of discs may contain crystals that may hasten degenerative changes

TUESDAY, Aug. 28 (HealthDay News) -- In human intervertebral discs, crystal deposition is a common occurrence and may have the same degenerative effects that it does in articular cartilage matrix, according to study findings published in the July/August issue of the Spine Journal.

Helen E. Gruber, Ph.D., of the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, N.C., and colleagues analyzed 208 disc specimens from patients who underwent surgery for herniated discs, degenerative disc disease or recurrent disc herniation, and three disc specimens from non-surgical patients.

The investigators found that 14.7 percent of the specimens contained crystals of various sizes, morphology and polarized light birefringence features. The most common variety was pyrophosphate crystals, but the researchers also identified oxalate-like crystals. The researchers also noted that crystal deposition was associated with alterations in extracellular matrix similar to those seen in articular cartilage matrix.

"These data are important because masses of crystals not only disrupt disc extracellular matrix but may also accelerate pre-existing degenerative changes via an elevation in matrix metalloproteinases (as previously recognized in cartilage)," the authors conclude. "Because failure of the structural integrity of the disc can result in annular tears and subsequent disc herniation, the mechanisms of crystal formation and the relationship between crystals and disc degeneration merit further investigations."

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