An in vitro organ culture model of the murine intervertebral disc

Jennifer W. Liu, Kevin H. Lin, Christian Weber, Sameer Bhalla, Sean Kelso, Kaixi Wang, Simon Y. Tang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Intervertebral disc (IVD) degeneration is a significant contributor to low back pain. The IVD is a fibrocartilaginous joint that serves to transmit and dampen loads in the spine. The IVD consists of a proteoglycan-rich nucleus pulposus (NP) and a collagen-rich annulus fibrosis (AF) sandwiched by cartilaginous end-plates. Together with the adjacent vertebrae, the vertebrae-IVD structure forms a functional spine unit (FSU). These microstructures contain unique cell types as well as unique extracellular matrices. Whole organ culture of the FSU preserves the native extracellular matrix, cell differentiation phenotypes, and cellular-matrix interactions. Thus, organ culture techniques are particularly useful for investigating the complex biological mechanisms of the IVD. Here, we describe a high-throughput approach for culturing whole lumbar mouse FSUs that provides an ideal platform for studying disease mechanisms and therapies for the IVD. Furthermore, we describe several applications that utilize this organ culture method to conduct further studies including contrast-enhanced microCT imaging and three-dimensional high-resolution finite element modeling of the IVD.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere55437
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments
Issue number122
StatePublished - Apr 11 2017


  • Bioengineering
  • Functional spine unit
  • High-throughput
  • Intervertebral disc degeneration
  • Issue 122
  • Lumbar
  • Mouse
  • Organ culture


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