The intervertebral disk (IVD), characterized as a charged, hydrated soft tissue, is the largest avascular structure in the body. Mechanical loading to the disk results in electromechanical transduction phenomenon as well as altered transport properties. Electrical conductivity is a material property of tissue depending on ion concentrations and diffusivities, which are in turn functions of tissue composition and structure. The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of mechanical loading on electrical behavior in human IVD tissues. We hypothesized that electrical conductivity in human IVD is strain-dependent, due to change in tissue composition caused by compression, and inhomogeneous, due to tissue structure and composition. We also hypothesized that conductivity in human annulus fibrosus (AF) is anisotropic, due to the layered structure of the tissue. Three lumbar IVDs were harvested from three human spines. From each disk, four AF specimens were prepared in each of the three principal directions (axial, circumferential, and radial), and four axial nucleus pulposus (NP) specimens were prepared. Conductivity was determined using a four-wire sense-current method and a custom-designed apparatus by measuring the resistance across the sample. Resistance measurements were taken at three levels of compression (0%, 10%, and 20%). Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) images of the human AF tissue were obtained in order to correlate tissue structure with conductivity results. Increasing compressive strain significantly decreased conductivity for all groups (p<0.05, analysis of variance (ANOVA)). Additionally, specimen orientation significantly affected electrical conductivity in the AF tissue, with conductivity in the radial direction being significantly lower than that in the axial or circumferential directions at all levels of compressive strain (p<0.05, ANOVA). Finally, conductivity in the NP tissue was significantly higher than that in the AF tissue (p<0.05, ANOVA). SEM images of the AF tissues showed evidence of microtubes orientated in the axial and circumferential directions, but not in the radial direction. This may suggest a relationship between tissue morphology and the anisotropic behavior of conductivity in the AF. The results of this investigation demonstrate that electrical conductivity in human IVD is strain-dependent and inhomogeneous, and that conductivity in the human AF tissue is anisotropic (i.e., direction-dependent). This anisotropic behavior is correlated with tissue structure shown in SEM images. This study provides important information regarding the effects of mechanical loading on solute transport and electrical behavior in IVD tissues.

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