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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Effect of pathology type and severity on the distribution of MRI signal intensities within the degenerated nucleus pulposus: application to idiopathic scoliosis and spondylolisthesis

Delphine Périé12* and Daniel Curnier23

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Mechanical Engineering, Ecole Polytechnique, Montréal, QC, Canada

2 Research Center, CHU Sainte Justine, Montréal, QC, Canada

3 Department of Kinesiology, Université de Montréal, Montréal, QC, Canada

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2010, 11:189  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-11-189

Published: 26 August 2010



Disc degeneration is characterized by a loss of cellularity, degradation of the extracellular matrix, and, as a result, morphological changes and biomechanical alterations. We hypothesized that the distribution of the MR signal intensity within the nucleus zone of the intervertebral disc was modified according to the pathology and the severity of the pathology. The objective of this study was to propose new parameters characterizing the distribution of the signal intensity within the nucleus zone of lumbar intervertebral discs, and to quantify these changes in patients suffering from spondylolisthesis or idiopathic scoliosis.


A retrospective study had been performed on T2-weighted MR images of twenty nine patients suffering from spondylolisthesis and/or scoliosis. The high intensity zone of the nucleus pulposus was semi-automatically detected. The distance "DX" between the center weighted by the signal intensity and the geometrical center was quantified. The sum of the signal intensity on the axis perpendicular to the longitudinal axis of the disc was plotted for each position of the longitudinal axis allowing defining the maximum sum "SM" and its position "PSM".


"SM" was clearly higher and "PSM" was more shifted for scoliosis than for spondylolisthesis. A two-way analysis of variance showed that the differences observed on "DX" were not attributed to the pathology nor its severity, the differences observed on "SM" were attributed to the pathology but not to its severity, and the differences observed on "PSM" were attributed to both the pathology and its severity.


The technique proposed in this study showed significant differences in the distribution of the MR signal intensity within the nucleus zone of intervertebral discs due to the pathology and its severity. The dependence of the "PSM" parameter to the severity of the pathology suggests this parameter as a predictive factor of the pathology progression. This new technique should be useful for the early diagnosis of intervertebral disc pathologies as it highlights abnormal patterns in the MRI signal for low severity of the pathology.