Morphological alterations of lumbar intervertebral discs in patients with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis

Mary H. Foltz, Casey P. Johnson, Walter H Truong, David W. Polly, Arin M. Ellingson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND CONTEXT: Etiology of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS) is still unknown. Prior in vitro research suggests intervertebral disc pathomorphology as a cause for the initiation and progression of the spinal deformity, however, this has not been well characterized in vivo. PURPOSE: To quantify and compare lumbar disc health and morphology in AIS to controls. STUDY DESIGN/SETTING: Cross-sectional study. METHODS: All lumbar discs were imaged using a 3T MRI scanner. T2-weighted and quantitative T2* maps were acquired. Axial slices of each disc were reconstructed, and customized scripts were used to extract outcome measurements: Nucleus pulposus (NP) signal intensity and location, disc signal volume, transition zone slope, and asymmetry index. Pearson's correlation analysis was performed between the NP location and disc wedge angle for AIS patients. ANOVAs were utilized to elucidate differences in disc health and morphology metrics between AIS patients and healthy controls. α=0.05. RESULTS: There were no significant differences in disc health metrics between controls and scoliotic discs. There was a significant shift in the NP location towards the convex side of the disc in AIS patients compared to healthy controls, with an associated increase of the transition zone slope on the convex side. Additionally, with increasing disc wedge angle, the NP center migrated towards the convex side of the disc. CONCLUSIONS: The present study elucidates morphological distinctions of intervertebral discs between healthy adolescents and those diagnosed with AIS. Discs in patients diagnosed with AIS are asymmetric, with the NP shifted towards the convex side, which was exacerbated by an increased disc wedge angle. CLINICAL SIGNIFICANCE: Investigation of the MRI signal distribution (T2w and T2* maps) within the disc suggests an asymmetric pressure gradient shifting the NP laterally towards the convexity. Quantifying the progression of these morphological alterations during maturation and in response to treatment will provide further insight into the mechanisms of curve progression and correction, respectively.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)172-184
Number of pages13
JournalSpine Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Elsevier Inc.


  • Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis
  • Asymmetry index
  • Disc health
  • Disc morphology
  • Image processing
  • Intervertebral disc
  • Nucleus location
  • Nucleus migration
  • Quantitative magnetic resonance imaging
  • Transition zone

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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