Gullbrand Laboratory

Crosstalk in Spinal Degeneration and Regeneration

Disc-Endplate Crosstalk

The intervertebral discs of the spine are the largest avascular structures in the body. Cells within the disc therefore rely on the transport of nutrients and waste products across the vertebral endplate to maintain disc homeostasis. A compromise in transport across the vertebral endplate interface is therefore implicated in the initiation and progression of disc degeneration. Our work in this area is focused on:

  • Understanding the contributions of altered trans-endplate transport in the initiation and progression of disc degeneration.
  • Measuring trans-endplate transport to predict patient response to non-operative treatment.
  • Defining the relationships between trans-endplate transport and the efficacy of cell based therapies for disc degeneration.
Microscale remodeling of the cartilage-endplate interface: Mallory-Heidenhain trichrome staining of the boney endplate (EP) and cartilaginous nucleus pulposus (NP) on three samples of different Pfirmann grades (5 assigned to more severe degeneration than 2) (scale bar = 1,000 ┬Ám).


Disc-Facet Crosstalk

The anterior intervertebral disc and posterior diarthrodial facet joints form what is referred to as the three-joint complex of the spine, working in concert to resist large magnitude axial loads and constrain range of motion to non-injurious levels. The study of disc degeneration has been dominant in the field for decades. Subsequently, little is known about the pathophysiology of facet osteoarthritis (OA) or how altered disc mechanical function may contribute to the progression of facet degeneration. Our work in this area is focused on:

  • Studying associations between disc degeneration and facet OA in both human tissues and in animal models.
  • Elucidating the effects of NP augmentation or total disc replacement on progression of facet OA
Disc degeneration (left) and facet osteoarthritis (right) in the lumbar spine.

Current Grants

  • VA RR&D CDA2 - IK2 RX003118 - The role of disc nutrition in the etiology and clinical treatment of disc degeneration 
  • URF Pilot - Imaging biomarkers to predict the success of cell therapies for intervertebral disc degeneration
  • VA Merit - I01 RX005006 - Predicting the efficacy of therapeutic spinal loading for intervertebral disc degeneration
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