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Open Access Research article

Assessment of mechanical properties of isolated bovine intervertebral discs from multi-parametric magnetic resonance imaging

Maximilien Recuerda12, Delphine Périé12*, Guillaume Gilbert3 and Gilles Beaudoin4

Author Affiliations

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

2 Research Center, CHU Sainte-Justine, Université de Montréal, Montréal, QC, Canada

3 Philips Healthcare, Montréal, QC, Canada

4 CHUM Saint-Luc, Université de Montréal, Montréal, QC, Canada

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2012, 13:195  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-13-195

Published: 12 October 2012



The treatment planning of spine pathologies requires information on the rigidity and permeability of the intervertebral discs (IVDs). Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) offers great potential as a sensitive and non-invasive technique for describing the mechanical properties of IVDs. However, the literature reported small correlation coefficients between mechanical properties and MRI parameters. Our hypothesis is that the compressive modulus and the permeability of the IVD can be predicted by a linear combination of MRI parameters.


Sixty IVDs were harvested from bovine tails, and randomly separated in four groups (in-situ, digested-6h, digested-18h, digested-24h). Multi-parametric MRI acquisitions were used to quantify the relaxation times T1 and T2, the magnetization transfer ratio MTR, the apparent diffusion coefficient ADC and the fractional anisotropy FA. Unconfined compression, confined compression and direct permeability measurements were performed to quantify the compressive moduli and the hydraulic permeabilities. Differences between groups were evaluated from a one way ANOVA. Multi linear regressions were performed between dependent mechanical properties and independent MRI parameters to verify our hypothesis. A principal component analysis was used to convert the set of possibly correlated variables into a set of linearly uncorrelated variables. Agglomerative Hierarchical Clustering was performed on the 3 principal components.


Multilinear regressions showed that 45 to 80% of the Young’s modulus E, the aggregate modulus in absence of deformation HA0, the radial permeability kr and the axial permeability in absence of deformation k0 can be explained by the MRI parameters within both the nucleus pulposus and the annulus pulposus. The principal component analysis reduced our variables to two principal components with a cumulative variability of 52-65%, which increased to 70-82% when considering the third principal component. The dendograms showed a natural division into four clusters for the nucleus pulposus and into three or four clusters for the annulus fibrosus.


The compressive moduli and the permeabilities of isolated IVDs can be assessed mostly by MT and diffusion sequences. However, the relationships have to be improved with the inclusion of MRI parameters more sensitive to IVD degeneration. Before the use of this technique to quantify the mechanical properties of IVDs in vivo on patients suffering from various diseases, the relationships have to be defined for each degeneration state of the tissue that mimics the pathology. Our MRI protocol associated to principal component analysis and agglomerative hierarchical clustering are promising tools to classify the degenerated intervertebral discs and further find biomarkers and predictive factors of the evolution of the pathologies.

Intervertebral disc; Compression tests; Mechanical properties; Multi-parametric MRI; Multiple linear regressions