Genetic markers of a predisposition to lumbar disc degeneration in young adults
Intervertebral Disc Degeneration (IVDD) is a complex phenomenon characterizing the desiccation and structural compromise of the primary joint in the human spine. The intervertebral disc (IVD) serves to connect vertebral bodies, cushion shock, and allow for flexion and extension of the vertebral column. Often presenting in the 4th or 5th decades of life as low back pain, this disease was originally believed to be the result of natural “wear and tear” coupled with repetitive mechanical insult, and as such most studies focus on patients between 40 and 50 years of age. Research over the past two decades, however, has demonstrated that environmental factors have only a modest effect on disc degeneration, with genetic influences playing a much more substantial role. Extensive research has focused on this process, though definitive risk factors and a clear pathophysiology have proven elusive. The aim of this study was to assemble a cohort of patients exhibiting definitive signs of degeneration who were well below the average age of presentation, with minimal or no exposure to suspected environmental risk factors and to conduct a targeted genome analysis in an attempt to elucidate a common genetic component. Through whole genome sequencing and analysis, the results corroborated findings in a previous study, as well as demonstrated a potential connection and influence between mutations found in IVD structural or functional genes, and the provocation of IVDD. Though the sample size was limited in scale and age, these findings suggest that further IVDD research into the association of variants in collagen, aggrecan and the insulin-like growth factor receptor genes of young patients with an early presentation of disc degeneration and minimal exposure to suspected risk factors is merited.