Biological Systems Engineering


Date of this Version



J Orthop Res. 2020 May ; 38(5): 1016–1026. doi:10.1002/jor.24557.


HHS Public Access


Pain originating from an intervertebral disc (discogenic pain) is a major source of chronic low back pain. Pathological innervation of the disc by pain‐sensing nerve fibers is thought to be a key component of discogenic pain, so treatment with biomaterials that have the ability to inhibit neurite growth will greatly benefit novel disc therapeutics. Currently, disc therapeutic biomaterials are rarely screened for their ability to modulate nerve growth, mainly due to a lack of models to screen neuromodulation. To address this deficit, our lab has engineered a three dimensional in vitro disc innervation model that mimics the interface between primary sensory nerves and the intervertebral disc. Further, herein we have demonstrated the utility of this model to screen the efficacy of chondroitin sulfate biomaterials to inhibit nerve fiber invasion into the model disc. Biomaterials containing chondroitin‐4‐sulfate (CS‐A) decrease neurite growth in a uniform gel and at an interface between a growth‐permissive and a growth‐inhibitory gel, while chondroitin‐6‐sulfate (CS‐C) is less neuroinhibitory. This in vitro model holds great potential for screening inhibitors of nerve fiber growth to further improve intervertebral disc replacements and therapeutics.