Type, size, and position of metastatic lesions explain the deformation of the vertebrae under complex loading conditions

Marco Palanca, Giovanni Barbanti-Bròdano, Daniele Marras, Mara Marciante, Michele Serra, Alessandro Gasbarrini, Enrico Dall'Ara, Luca Cristofolini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Bone metastases may lead to spine instability and increase the risk of fracture. Scoring systems are available to assess critical metastases, but they lack specificity, and provide uncertain indications over a wide range, where most cases fall. The aim of this work was to use a novel biomechanical approach to evaluate the effect of lesion type, size, and location on the deformation of the metastatic vertebra.

METHOD: Vertebrae with metastases were identified from 16 human spines from a donation programme. The size and position of the metastases, and the Spine Instability Neoplastic Score (SINS) were evaluated from clinical Quantitative Computed Tomography images. Thirty-five spine segments consisting of metastatic vertebrae and adjacent healthy controls were biomechanically tested in four different loading conditions. The strain distribution over the entire vertebral bodies was measured with Digital Image Correlation. Correlations between the features of the metastasis (type, size, position and SINS) and the deformation of the metastatic vertebrae were statistically explored.

RESULTS: The metastatic type (lytic, blastic, mixed) characterizes the vertebral behaviour (Kruskal-Wallis, p = 0.04). In fact, the lytic metastases showed more critical deformation compared to the control vertebrae (average: 2-fold increase, with peaks of 14-fold increase). By contrast, the vertebrae with mixed or blastic metastases did not show a clear trend, with deformations similar or lower than the controls. Once the position of the lytic lesion with respect to the loading direction was taken into account, the size of the lesion was significantly correlated with the perturbation to the strain distribution (r2 = 0.72, p < 0.001). Conversely, the SINS poorly correlated with the mechanical evidence, and only in case of lytic lesions (r2 = 0.25, p < 0.0001).

CONCLUSION: These results highlight the relevance of the size and location of the lytic lesion, which are marginally considered in the current clinical scoring systems, in driving the spinal biomechanical instability. The strong correlation with the biomechanical evidence indicates that these parameters are representative of the mechanical competence of the vertebra. The improved explanatory power compared to the SINS suggests including them in future guidelines for the clinical practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
Early online dateJun 2 2021
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021


  • Digital image correlation
  • Metastasis
  • Strain analysis
  • Vertebra


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