Effect of intervertebral disc degeneration on disc cell viability: a numerical investigation

Fabio Galbusera, Antje Mietsch, Hendrik Schmidt, Hans Joachim Wilke, Cornelia Neidlinger-Wilke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Degeneration of the intervertebral disc may be initiated and supported by impairment of the nutrition processes of the disc cells. The effects of degenerative changes on cell nutrition are, however, only partially understood. In this work, a finite volume model was used to investigate the effect of endplate calcification, water loss, reduction of disc height and cyclic mechanical loading on the sustainability of the disc cell population. Oxygen, lactate and glucose diffusion, production and consumption were modelled with non-linear coupled partial differential equations. Oxygen and glucose consumption and lactate production were expressed as a function of local oxygen concentration, pH and cell density. The cell viability criteria were based on local glucose concentration and pH. Considering a disc with normal water content, cell death was initiated in the centre of the nucleus for oxygen, glucose, and lactate diffusivities in the cartilaginous endplate below 20% of the physiological values. The initial cell population could not be sustained even in the non-calcified endplates when a reduction of diffusion inside the disc due to water loss was modelled. Alterations in the disc shape such as height loss, which shortens the transport route between the nutrient sources and the cells, and cyclic mechanical loads, could enhance cell nutrition processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)328-337
Number of pages10
JournalComputer Methods in Biomechanics and Biomedical Engineering
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2013


  • cell metabolism
  • cell nutrition
  • cell viability
  • finite volume
  • intervertebral disc

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Bioengineering
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Human-Computer Interaction


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