Disc degeneration occurs commonly in dogs. A variety of factors is thought to contribute an inappropriate disc matrix that isolate cells in the disc and lead to apoptosis. Disc herniation with radiculopathy and discogenic pain are the results of the degenerative process. The objective of this prospective study was to determine the extent of apoptosis in intact and herniated intervertebral discs of chondrodystrophic dogs and non-chondrodystrophic dogs. In addition, the nucleus pulposus (NP) was histologically compared between non-chondrodystrophic and chondrodystrophic dogs. Thoracolumbar intervertebral discs and parts of the extruded nucleus pulposus were harvested from 45 dogs. Samples were subsequently stained with haematoxylin-eosin and processed to detect cleaved caspase-3 and poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase. A significant greater degree of apoptosis was observed in herniated NPs of chondrodystrophic dogs compared to non- chondrodystrophic dogs with poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase and cleaved caspase- 3 detection. Within the group of chondrodystrophic dogs, dogs with an intact disc and younger than 6 years showed a significant lower incidence of apoptosis in the NP compared to the herniated NP of chondrodystrophic dogs. The extent of apoptosis in the annulus fibrosus was not different between the intact disc from chondrodystrophic and non- chondrodystrophic dogs. An age-related increase of apoptotic cells in NP and annulus fibrosus was found in the intact non-herniated intervertebral discs. Histologically, absence of notochordal cells and occurrence of chondroid metaplasia were observed in the nucleus pulposus of chondrodystrophic dogs. As a result, we found that apoptosis plays a role in disc degeneration in chondrodystrophic dogs.
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