Breakthrough Study Reveals Specific Spinal Cells Triggering Low Back Pain

Widely prevalent, back pain is a leading cause of discomfort and disability globally, affecting individuals of all ages due to various physical and lifestyle factors.

Back Pain

Back Pain

Lower back pain is an intense pain in the lumbar region of the spine. It is mainly caused by degeneration of the discs in the L1-L5 vertebrae. Over the years, the jelly-like substance in the spinal discs tends to dry out and degenerate, but this doesn’t automatically cause pain.

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Specific cells are responsible for disc pain

A recent study has suggested that lower back pain may be linked to specific cells in the discs of some people’s spines. This may explain why some people develop low back pain as a result of the degeneration of their spinal discs. “For the first time, we have identified specific cells that may be key to understanding disc pain,” explains Dmitriy Sheyn, lead author of the study and researcher at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. This work was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

As part of this research, the researchers compared the spinal discs of patients suffering from low back pain with healthy spinal discs. They observed that the discs of individuals with low back pain contained a higher number of a certain type of cell that could be associated with pain.

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During the study, the team also exposed healthy disc cells to conditions that simulated disc degeneration (inflammation, acidity, tension, compression, etc.). The results showed that the healthy cells were able to transform into cells associated with pain.

New therapies may be on the way

In a final laboratory experiment, the study authors placed pain-associated spinal cord cells next to pain-signaling neurons that they had created from stem cells. They observed that the pain-signaling neurons began to develop nerve fibers in the direction of the cells associated with back pain. These fibers could be used to transmit pain signals from the spinal discs to the brain.

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However, when the pain-signaling neurons were placed next to healthy spinal cord cells, they did not develop these nerve fibers. “We don’t know if the pain-associated cells attracted the fibers of neurons or if the healthy cells rejected it, but there was clearly a difference between the healthy cells and the pain-associated cells,” describes Dmitriy Sheyn.

These initial results could pave the way for new treatments for low back pain. In particular, the researchers hypothesize that the disc cells associated with pain can be reprogrammed into healthy cells.


Wensen Jiang et al. ,Intervertebral disc human nucleus pulposus cells associated with back pain trigger neurite outgrowth in vitro and pain behaviors in rats.Sci. Transl. Med.15,eadg7020(2023).



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