Intervertebral disc degeneration is characterized by a progressive cascade of structural, biochemical and biomechanical changes affecting the annulus fibrosus (AF), nucleus pulposus (NP) and end plates (EP). These changes are considered to contribute to the onset of back pain. It has been shown that mechanical properties of the AF and NP change significantly with degeneration [1,2]. Therefore, mechanical properties have the potential to serve as a biomarker for diagnosis of disc degeneration. Currently, disc degeneration is diagnosed based on the detection of structural and compositional changes using MRI, X-ray, discography and other imaging techniques. These methods, however, do not measure directly the mechanical properties of the extracellular matrix of the disc. Magnetic Resonance Elastography (MRE) is a technique that has been used to measure in vivo mechanical properties of soft tissue by applying a mechanical vibration and measuring displacements with a motion-sensitized MRI pulse sequence [3]. The mechanical properties (e.g., the shear modulus) are calculated from the displacement field using an inverse method. Since the applied displacements are in the order of few microns, fibers may not be stretched enough to remove crimping. Therefore, it is unknown if the anisotropy of the AF due to the contribution of the fibers is detectable using MRE. The objective of this study is twofold: to measure shear properties of AF in different orientations to determine the degree of AF anisotropy observable by MRE, and to identify the contribution of different AF constituents to the measured shear modulus by applying different biochemical treatments.

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