Aging and degeneration are associated with changes in mechanical properties in the intervertebral disc, generating interest in the establishment of mechanical properties as early biomarkers for the degenerative cascade. Magnetic resonance elastography (MRE) of the intervertebral disc is usually limited to the nucleus pulposus, as the annulus fibrosus is stiffer and less hydrated. The objective of this work was to adapt high-frequency needle MRE to the characterization of the shear modulus of both the nucleus pulposus and annulus fibrosus. Bovine intervertebral discs were removed from fresh oxtails and characterized by needle MRE. The needle was inserted in the center of the disc and vibrations were generated by an amplified piezoelectric actuator. MRE acquisitions were performed on a 4.7-T small-animal MR scanner using a spin echo sequence with sinusoidal motion encoding gradients. Acquisitions were repeated over a frequency range of 1000–1800 Hz. The local frequency estimation inversion algorithm was used to compute the shear modulus. Stiffness maps allowed the visualization of the soft nucleus pulposus surrounded by the stiffer annulus fibrosus surrounded by the homogeneous gel. A significant difference in shear modulus between the nucleus pulposus and annulus fibrosus, and an increase in the shear modulus with excitation frequency, were observed, in agreement with the literature. This study demonstrates that global characterization of both the nucleus pulposus and annulus fibrosus of the intervertebral disc is possible with needle MRE using a preclinical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner. MRE can be a powerful method for the mapping of the complex properties of the intervertebral disc. The developed method could be adapted for in situ use by preserving adjacent vertebrae and puncturing the side of the intervertebral disc, thereby allowing an assessment of the contribution of osmotic pressure to the mechanical behavior of the intervertebral disc.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere3918
JournalNMR in biomedicine
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2018


  • annulus fibrosus
  • intervertebral disc
  • magnetic resonance elastography
  • mechanical properties
  • nucleus pulposus
  • shear modulus


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