Cellular response to mechanical loading varies between the anatomic zones of the intervertebral disc. This difference may be related to differences in the structure and mechanics of both cells and extracellular matrix, which are expected to cause differences in the physical stimuli (such as pressure, stress, and strain) in the cellular micromechanical environment. In this study, a finite element model was developed that was capable of describing the cell micromechanical environment in the intervertebral disc. The model was capable of describing a number of important mechanical phenomena: flow-dependent viscoelasticity using the biphasic theory for soft tissues; finite deformation effects using a hyperelastic constitutive law for the solid phase; and material anisotropy by including a fiber-reinforced continuum law in the hyperelastic strain energy function. To construct accurate finite element meshes, the in situ geometry of IVD cells were measured experimentally using laser scanning confocal microscopy and three-dimensional reconstruction techniques. The model predicted that the cellular micromechanical environment varies dramatically between the anatomic zones, with larger cellular strains predicted in the anisotropic anulus fibrosus and transition zone compared to the isotropic nucleus pulposus. These results suggest that deformation related stimuli may dominate for anulus fibrosus and transition zone cells, while hydrostatic pressurization may dominate in the nucleus pulposus. Furthermore, the model predicted that micromechanical environment is strongly influenced by cell geometry, suggesting that the geometry of IVD cells in situ may be an adaptation to reduce cellular strains during tissue loading.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Biomechanical Engineering
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2003


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