Low back pain (LBP) is a leading cause of global disability. Multiple anatomical, cellular and molecular factors implicated in LBP, including degeneration of lumbar intervertebral discs (IVDs). We previously described a mouse model that displays behavioral symptoms of chronic LBP.
Here we investigated the development of pathological innervation and macrophage infiltration into injured IVDs following a puncture injury in mice over 12 months. 2-month old CD1 female mice underwent a single puncture of the ventral L4/5 IVD using a 30G needle, and were sacrificed 4 days and 0.5-, 3-, 6- and 12-months post-injury.
Severity of disc degeneration was assessed using colorimetric staining. IVD innervation was measured by PGP9.5-immunoreactivity (-ir) and calcitonin gene-related peptide-ir (CGRP-ir). Macrophage accumulation into IVDs was detected by F4/80-ir. Mechanical IVD injury resulted in severe degeneration and increased PGP9.5-ir nerve fiber density starting at 4 days that persisted for up to 12 months and dorsal herniations began to occur at 3 months. CGRP-ir was also upregulated in injured IVDs, with the largest increase at 12 months post-injury. Infiltration of F4/80-ir macrophages was observed in injured IVDs by day 4 both dorsally and ventrally, with the latter diminishing in the later stage.
Persistent LBP is a complex disease with multiple underlying pathologies. By highlighting pathological changes in IVD innervation and inflammation, our study suggests that strategies targeting these mechanisms might be useful therapeutically.