Reduced nucleus pulposus glycosaminoglycan (GAG) content is one of the earliest clinically detectable changes during the course of intervertebral disc degeneration [1,2]. Depletion of nucleus GAG by small percentages consistent with this early loss has been experimentally linked to altered motion segment mechanical function, and thus, potentially increases the risk of damage accumulation directly due to elevated stresses and strains and through altered cellular function [3]. Recently, our laboratory has established an in vivo model in a rat lumbar disc which moderately decreases nucleus GAG to levels observed in early human degeneration. In this model, GAG loss is accompanied by a state of hypermobility at both 4 and 12 weeks post treatment [4], potentially making the disc susceptible to mechanical failure. The objective of this study was to determine the long term effects of nucleus GAG depletion and to determine if altered discs demonstrate hallmark features of disc degeneration. We hypothesized that GAG will remain depleted 24 weeks post treatment, potentially decreasing to lower levels, and further that geometrical and mechanical changes consistent with degeneration will be observed.

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