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Compacted Discs

Imaging combined with protein analysis of intervertebral discs provides information on how they change with age and pain

21 February 2021

Compacted Discs

As you bend, your spine shifts. The older you are, the more likely there’s a little stiffness as the vertebrae, the interlocking chunks of bone, realign. Back pain associated with ageing is commonly caused by deterioration of the discs that sit between the bones, protecting the structures and enabling movement. Researchers keen to understand this breakdown looked at the different composition of discs in old and young people, analysing the presence of two protein types: extracellular matrix proteins, which form the scaffold binding cells together, and signalling proteins, which allow cells to communicate. The study found that both the amount and production of these proteins was greater in younger people. It also developed a new tool to analyse the distribution of these proteins with MRI (pictured, with high water content, indicating the protein makeup, yellow), which could help guide new approaches to protecting the discs, and holding back pain.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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