Intervertebral disc (IVD) degeneration is associated with low back pain and accompanied by mechanical changes to the spine. SPARC (secreted protein acidic and rich in cysteine) is a protein that contributes to the functioning and maintenance of the extracellular matrix. SPARC-null mice display accelerated IVD degeneration and pain-associated behaviours. This study examined if SPARC-null mice also display altered spine mechanics as compared to wild-type (WT) mice. Lumbar spines from SPARC-null (n=36) and WT (n=18) mice aged 14-25 months were subjected to cyclic axial tension and compression to determine neutral zone (NZ) length and stiffness. Three separate mechanical tests were completed for each spine to determine the effect of the number of IVDs tested in series (one vs two vs three IVDs). SPARC-null spine NZs were both stiffer (p < .001) and smaller in length (p < .001) than WT spines. There was an effect of the number of IVDs tested in series for NZ length but not NZ stiffness when collapsed across condition (SPARC-null and WT). Correlation analysis revealed a weak negative correlation (r = -.24) between age and NZ length in SPARC-null mice and a weak positive correlation (r = .30) between age and NZ stiffness in WT mice. In conclusion, SPARC-null mice had stiffer and smaller NZs than WT mice, regardless of the number of IVDs in series being tested. The increased stiffness of these IVDs likely influences mobility at these spinal joints thereby potentially contributing to low back pain.

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