Synchrotron tomography of intervertebral disc deformation quantified by digital volume correlation reveals microstructural influence on strain patterns.


Centre for Doctoral Training in Regenerative Medicine, The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK; Division of Cell Matrix Biology and Regenerative Medicine, The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK. Electronic address: [Email]


The intervertebral disc (IVD) has a complex and multiscale extracellular matrix structure which provides unique mechanical properties to withstand physiological loading. Low back pain has been linked to degeneration of the disc but reparative treatments are not currently available. Characterising the disc's 3D microstructure and its response in a physiologically relevant loading environment is required to improve understanding of degeneration and to develop new reparative treatments. In this study, techniques for imaging the native IVD, measuring internal deformation and mapping volumetric strain were applied to an in situ compressed ex vivo rat lumbar spine segment. Synchrotron X-ray micro-tomography (synchrotron CT) was used to resolve IVD structures at microscale resolution. These image data enabled 3D quantification of collagen bundle orientation and measurement of local displacement in the annulus fibrosus between sequential scans using digital volume correlation (DVC). The volumetric strain mapped from synchrotron CT provided a detailed insight into the micromechanics of native IVD tissue. The DVC findings showed that there was no slipping at lamella boundaries, and local strain patterns were of a similar distribution to the previously reported elastic network with some heterogeneous areas and maximum strain direction aligned with bundle orientation, suggesting bundle stretching and sliding. This method has the potential to bridge the gap between measures of macro-mechanical properties and the local 3D micro-mechanical environment experienced by cells. This is the first evaluation of strain at the micro scale level in the intact IVD and provides a quantitative framework for future IVD degeneration mechanics studies and testing of tissue engineered IVD replacements. STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE: Synchrotron in-line phase contrast X-ray tomography provided the first visualisation of native intact intervertebral disc microstructural deformation in 3D. For two annulus fibrosus volumes of interest, collagen bundle orientation was quantified and local displacement mapped as strain. Direct evidence of microstructural influence on strain patterns could be seen such as no slipping at lamellae boundaries and maximum strain direction aligned with collagen bundle orientation. Although disc elastic structures were not directly observed, the strain patterns had a similar distribution to the previously reported elastic network. This study presents technical advances and is a basis for future X-ray microscopy, structural quantification and digital volume correlation strain analysis of soft tissue.


Digital volume correlation,Intervertebral disc,Strain,X-ray micro-tomography,