Type 2 diabetes induces changes in the behavior of vertebral column discs, causing increased stiffness and premature alterations in shape. Consequently, the discs lose their ability to effectively withstand pressure, as revealed by a recent study conducted on rodents by a collaborative team of engineers and physicians from the University of California San Diego, UC Davis, UCSF, and the University of Utah.

Individuals with Type 2 diabetes are at a higher risk of experiencing low back pain and disc-related issues, which are often linked to intervertebral disc degeneration. Despite this association, the specific mechanisms behind disc degeneration in diabetes remain unclear.

To comprehend the disease and develop effective strategies for managing low back pain, it is crucial to investigate the biomechanical properties of the intervertebral disc. Co-led by Claire Acevedo from the University of California San Diego and Aaron Fields from UC San Francisco, the research team emphasizes the importance of understanding nanoscale deformation mechanisms of collagen fibrils in accommodating compressive loading of the intervertebral disc.

The study employed synchrotron small-angle x-ray scattering (SAXS), an experimental technique focusing on collagen fibril deformation and orientation at the nanoscale. By comparing healthy rat discs with those from rats with Type 2 diabetes (UC Davis rat model), the researchers observed that the ability of diabetic rat discs to dissipate energy under compression was significantly impaired. The rotation and stretching of collagen fibrils, crucial for efficient energy dissipation, were reduced in diabetic rats, indicating compromised pressure-handling capabilities.

Further analysis revealed that discs from diabetic rats exhibited a stiffening of collagen fibrils, characterized by a higher concentration of non-enzymatic cross-links induced by hyperglycemia. This increase in collagen cross-linking limited plastic deformations via fibrillar sliding, disrupting efficient deformation mechanisms. The study, published in the December 2023 issue of PNAS Nexus, provides valuable insights into the potential mechanisms underlying diabetes-related disc tissue damage, offering a foundation for the development of preventive and therapeutic strategies for this debilitating condition.


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