OBJECTIVE: We have examined the costovertebral complex in humans with respect to the presence of immune-like reactivity to neurofilament protein and the neuropeptide substance P and calcitonin gene-related peptide, markers that reveal the presence of axons in peripheral tissues.
DESIGN: Human costovertebral complexes obtained at autopsy were processed with standard histologic examination and immunocytochemical methods to detect the presence of neurofilaments, substance P, and calcitonin gene-related peptide.
MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Outcomes were descriptive and did not require statistical methods.
RESULTS: All costovertebral joints contained innervation within the anterior capsule and synovial tissues. In 4 separate cases, the costovertebral joints contained large intraarticular synovial inclusions or "meniscoids" found to contain small bundles of axons with immune-like reactivity to substance P. Axon bundles were identified in serial section with monoclonal antibodies to neurofilaments as well as with urea-silver nitrate staining.
CONCLUSIONS: The costovertebral joint has been considered a candidate for producing back pain and/or pseudo-angina that may be ameliorated by spinal manipulation. This study has demonstrated that the costovertebral joint has the requisite innervation for pain production in a similar manner to other joints of the spinal column.
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