Study maps molecular pathways of disc degeneration


New research detailing the molecular mechanisms involved in the breakdown of the soft tissue discs of the spine may provide opportunities for advanced, minimally invasive treatments for low back pain. The study investigated the molecular pathways which lead to disc degeneration.

The research was conducted by Jason H Huang, chairman of neurosurgery for Baylor Scott & White Health Central Texas Division and researcher with the Baylor Scott & White Research Institute (both Dallas, USA), and published in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine.

“This research has the potential to develop technology and therapies that could not only treat disc degeneration, but also potentially reverse its course,” Huang says.

Leveraging previous work on SMURF2, a gene that has been implicated in tumour formation and disease progression, the study created an overexpression of the protein to better understand disc degeneration and the molecular mechanisms involved in the breakdown of the soft tissue discs in the human spine.

By understanding the molecular pathways that lead to disc degradation, researchers can develop pharmacological agents and other forms of injectable therapies that may be used in the future to block degenerative mechanisms or promote remodelling processes.

“This is a first step in an exciting research journey that will hopefully reduce that burden as well as the number of patients having to undergo invasive surgery, thereby making the population much healthier,” Huang says. “We spend more than US$100 billion a year to treat low back pain, which is a significant cost.”

This study phase advances more than three years of research on SMURF2 genes. The next phase of research, which applies the findings of SMURF2 to human tissue, will be published later this year. Future goals for research include creating pharmacological for use in human clinical trials.