The Link Between Scoliosis & Spinal Fluid Flow

Category: Scoliosis | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: June 22, 2016

spinal fluid

A new study suggests that irregular spinal fluid flow throughout the spinal column could be linked to a type of scoliosis that can affect humans during their early years.

Zebrafish

To uncover the link, researchers at the University of Princeton studied the effects of gene mutations in zebrafish. The same type of mutations are present in humans, and researchers wanted to see if the genes damaged areas of their spine. Throughout their research they uncovered that the mutated genes damaged the cilia – tiny hair-like projections that line the spinal canal and facilitate spinal fluid movement. Moreover, damage to these cilia led to an abnormal curvature of the spine.

“This is the first hint of a biological mechanism for idiopathic scoliosis,” said Rebecca Burdine, associate professor of molecular biology at Princeton, and senior author of the study. “We hope this research will open up new areas of inquiry as to how the disruptions to normal cerebrospinal fluid flow can lead to spinal curvature.”

Cilia Study

Researchers noticed the association when studying the effects of disrupted cilia and spinal curvature in adult zebrafish. They studied two sets of zebrafish, one with normal functioning cilia and one whose cilia had be genetically altered. The team of scientists noted that zebrafish with the altered cilia experienced irregular and slower than normal flow of the spinal fluid throughout the spinal canal. This irregular flow led to excessive spinal curvatures and a brain-swelling condition known as hydrocephalus in the zebrafish.

It’s interesting that researchers were able to find the association between irregular spinal fluid flow and spine curvature, but what’s fascinating is what happened when researchers repaired the damaged cilia. Once repaired, cerebrospinal fluid flow returned to normal and it actually prevented spinal curvatures from continuing. Should the research be translatable to humans, the study could lead to a non-surgical approach for treating idiopathic scoliosis, which has no known cause and affects nearly three percent of adolescents.

“We demonstrated that if we could restore gene function in the motile ciliated tissues, we could restore cerebrospinal fluid flow, and we could actually prevent scoliosis in these mutants,” said Brian Ciruna, an associate professor of molecular genetics at the University of Toronto and senior scientist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

This isn’t the first time researchers have studied spinal developments in zebrafish. Further studies will be tasked with understanding the mechanisms by which disrupted cerebrospinal fluid flow causes the spine to curve, but for now, the research is promising.

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