Nutrient distribution and metabolism in the intervertebral disc in the unloaded state: a parametric study

  • Magnier Carole
  • Boiron Olivier
  • Wendling-Mansuy Sylvie
  • Chabrand Patrick
  • Deplano Valérie

  • Intervertebral disc degeneration
  • Osmomechanical behavior
  • Cell nutrition
  • Nutrient diffusion
  • Quadriphasic theory


A 2-D finite element model for the intervertebral disc in which quadriphasic theory is coupled to the transport of solutes involved in cellular nutrition was developed for investigating the main factors contributing to disc degeneration. Degeneration is generally taken to result from chronic disc cell nutrition insufficiency, which prevents the cells from renewing the extracellular matrix and thus leads to the loss of proteoglycans. So, the osmotic power of the disc is decreased, causing osmomechanical impairments. Cellular metabolism depends strongly on the oxygen, lactate and glucose concentrations and pH in the disc. To study the diffusion of these solutes in a mechanically or osmotically loaded disc, the osmomechanical and diffusive effects have to be coupled. The intervertebral disc is modeled here using a plane strain formulation at the equilibrium state under physiological conditions after a long rest period (called unloaded state). The correlations between solute distribution and various properties of healthy and degenerated discs are investigated. The numerical simulation shows that solute distribution in the disc depends very little on the elastic modulus or the proteoglycan concentration but greatly on the porosity, diffusion coefficient and endplate diffusion area. This coupled model therefore opens new perspectives for investigating intervertebral disc degeneration mechanisms.