Type 2 diabetes affects vertebral disc behavior

Type 2 diabetes alters annulus fibrosus fiber deformation in UCD-T2DM rats.

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Type 2 diabetes can make the discs in your spine stiffer and change shape sooner than usual. This makes them less able to handle pressure. Researchers from several universities, including University of California San Diego, UC Davis, UCSF, and the University of Utah, found this in a study on rodents.

Back pain is a big problem for many people, and damaged discs are often to blame. People with Type 2 diabetes are more likely to have back pain and disc problems. However, we’re still not exactly sure how diabetes leads to disc damage.

Researchers studied how the spine’s discs move, essential for figuring out diseases and finding good ways to treat back pain. Claire Acevedo, from UC San Diego, and Aaron Fields, from UC San Francisco, led a team that looked into this.

The researchers write, “These findings provide novel insight into the potential mechanisms underlying diabetes-related disc tissue damage and may inform the development of preventative and therapeutic strategies for this debilitating condition.”

The study shows tiny collagen fibers in the spine’s discs help handle pressure. But in Type 2 diabetes, these fibers don’t work as well, leading to stiffening of collagen. This discovery helps us understand how diabetes damages disc tissues and could help us find ways to prevent or treat this problem.

To understand this better, researchers used a unique technique called synchrotron small-angle x-ray scattering (SAXS) to study how collagen fibers move and align at a tiny scale. They wanted to see how changes in collagen affect the disc’s ability to handle pressure.

The researchers looked at discs from normal rats and rats with Type 2 diabetes (using the UC Davis rat model). In healthy rats, collagen fibers in the discs rotate and stretch when compressed, helping the disc absorb energy well.

However, in diabetic rats, this ability was significantly reduced. The collagen fibers didn’t rotate and stretch as much, showing that the discs struggled to handle pressure effectively.

Further examination revealed that the discs from diabetic rats became stiffer due to increased collagen cross-linking caused by high blood sugar levels. This limited the ability of collagen fibers to slide and stretch, which is essential for absorbing pressure. These results show that fiber reorientation and stretching are crucial for how discs handle compression. Type 2 diabetes interferes with these mechanisms, causing changes in disc behavior and making them more prone to damage.

Type 2 diabetes affects vertebral disc behavior, causing stiffness and reducing their ability to withstand pressure. This alteration is attributed to changes in collagen fibrils, characterized by increased cross-linking, which disrupts normal biomechanics. 

These findings shed light on the mechanisms of disc degeneration in Type 2 diabetes, offering potential directions for future research and clinical strategies to address this condition effectively.

Journal reference:

  1. James L Rosenberg, Eric Schaible, et al., Type 2 diabetes impairs annulus fibrosus fiber deformation and rotation under disc compression in the University of California Davis type 2 diabetes mellitus (UCD-T2DM) rat model. PNAS Nexus. DOI: 10.1093/pnasnexus/pgad363.
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