Formation of lamellar cross bridges in the annulus fibrosus of the intervertebral disc is a consequence of vascular regression.

Matrix biology : journal of the International Society for Matrix Biology

PubMedID: 21504791

Smith LJ, Elliott DM. Formation of lamellar cross bridges in the annulus fibrosus of the intervertebral disc is a consequence of vascular regression. Matrix Biol. 2011;30(4):267-74.
Cross bridges are radial structures within the highly organized lamellar structure of the annulus fibrosus of the intervertebral disc that connect two or more non-consecutive lamellae. Their origin and function are unknown. During fetal development, blood vessels penetrate deep within the AF and recede during postnatal growth. We hypothesized that cross bridges are the pathways left by these receding blood vessels. Initially, the presence of cross bridges was confirmed in cadaveric human discs aged 25 and 53 years. Next, L1-L2 intervertebral discs (n=4) from sheep ranging in age from 75 days fetal gestation to adult were processed for paraffin histology. Mid-sagittal sections were immunostained for endothelial cell marker PECAM-1. The anterior and posterior AF were imaged using differential interference contrast microscopy, and the following parameters were quantified: total number of distinct lamellae, total number of cross bridges, percentage of cross bridges staining positive for PECAM-1, cross bridge penetration depth (% total lamellae), and PECAM-1 positive cross bridge penetration depth. Cross bridges were first observed at 100 days fetal gestation. The overall number peaked in neonates then remained relatively unchanged. The percentage of PECAM-1 positive cross bridges declined progressively from almost 100% at 100 days gestation to less than 10% in adults. Cross bridge penetration depth peaked in neonates then remained unchanged at subsequent ages. Depth of PECAM-1 positive cross bridges decreased progressively after birth. Findings were similar for both the anterior and posterior. The AF lamellar architecture is established early in development. It later becomes disrupted as a consequence of vascularization. Blood vessels then recede, perhaps due to increasing mechanical stresses in the surrounding matrix. In this study we present evidence that the pathways left by receding blood vessels remain as lamellar cross bridges. It is unclear whether the presence of cross bridges in the aging and degenerating intervertebral disc would be advantageous or detrimental, and this question should be addressed by future studies.