Degradation of the elastic network in scoliotic discs

Aims of the study:

The spinal column consists of bones (vertebral bodies) interspersed with discs (a softer pliable tissue). The discs allow the spine to bend and twist. The discs are made of biomolecules particularly collagen, a string-like protein which provides the disc with its framework and structural strength while elastic fibres hold the collagen network in place. In scoliosis, the shape of the whole spinal column is disturbed, with the discs being more deformed than the bone. The strong association of an elastic network with a collagen network in non-scoliotic discs suggests that an elastic network plays an important role in disc function.

The objective of this project was to investigate the role of the elastic fibre network in scoliosis by studying the elastic fibre, micro fibril and collagen network organisation of scoliotic discs including patients of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS). The ultimate aim of this work is to understand the contribution of disc macromolecule composition and organisation to the progression of the scoliotic deformity and hence to gain a better understanding of the aetiology of AIS.

Research Outcomes:

Recent work from this team of researchers indicates that the elastic fibre system is important for providing structural support between and across the collagen layers through cross bridges and through a dense network; the loss of elastic fibre network organisation could lead to changes in the collagen network and result in the loss of disc integrity so evident in the scoliotic disc. This study showed that the elastic network and collagen network were both disorganised in scoliotic discs. Such irreversible changes in a disc’s matrix organisation would affect its function and eventually will contribute to the progression of the deformity. The results show that discs from scoliotic patients are highly disorganised, independent of the cause of the scoliotic deformity. In particular the collagen network has lost its normal structure and in some cases forms into tangles. The elastic fibre system is also disorganised and no longer co-localises with the collagen network.


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