Noah B. Bonnheim, Linshanshan Wang, Ann A. Lazar, Jiamin Zhou, Ravi Chachad, Nico Sollmann, Xiaojie Guo, Claudia Iriondo, Conor O’Neill, Jeffrey C. Lotz, Thomas M. Link, Roland Krug, Aaron J. Fields

April 2022, pp 1 - 7 Original Article Read Full Article 10.1007/s00586-022-07206-x

First Online: 20 April 2022


The composition of the subchondral bone marrow and cartilage endplate (CEP) could affect intervertebral disc health by influencing vertebral perfusion and nutrient diffusion. However, the relative contributions of these factors to disc degeneration in patients with chronic low back pain (cLBP) have not been quantified. The goal of this study was to use compositional biomarkers derived from quantitative MRI to establish how CEP composition (surrogate for permeability) and vertebral bone marrow fat fraction (BMFF, surrogate for perfusion) relate to disc degeneration.


MRI data from 60 patients with cLBP were included in this prospective observational study (28 female, 32 male; age = 40.0 ± 11.9 years, 19–65 [mean ± SD, min–max]). Ultra-short echo-time MRI was used to calculate CEP T2* relaxation times (reflecting biochemical composition), water-fat MRI was used to calculate vertebral BMFF, and T1ρ MRI was used to calculate T1ρ relaxation times in the nucleus pulposus (NP T1ρ, reflecting proteoglycan content and degenerative grade). Univariate linear regression was used to assess the independent effects of CEP T2* and vertebral BMFF on NP T1ρ. Mixed effects multivariable linear regression accounting for age, sex, and BMI was used to assess the combined relationship between variables.


CEP T2* and vertebral BMFF were independently associated with NP T1ρ (p = 0.003 and 0.0001, respectively). After adjusting for age, sex, and BMI, NP T1ρ remained significantly associated with CEP T2* (p = 0.0001) but not vertebral BMFF (p = 0.43).


Poor CEP composition plays a significant role in disc degeneration severity and can affect disc health both with and without deficits in vertebral perfusion.

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