METHODS: Using an established rat model, we fixed 3 contiguous lumbar segments (L4-L6) for 8 weeks with a specially engineered vertebral fixation device. Electron micrographs were obtained from 2 animals from the experimental (fixed) group and each of 3 control groups (no surgery, surgery but no devices implanted, and devices implanted but not fixed). Synapses were randomly selected using a stereological approach and were analyzed for symmetry, curvature, type of postsynaptic profile, and perforations. The synaptic density was also estimated.
RESULTS: There was increased synaptic density and percentage of positively curved synapses in the dorsal horn of experimental animals as compared with controls. Experimental animals had a lower percentage of axospinous synapses, with a concomitant increase in the percentage of synapses on dendritic shafts.
CONCLUSIONS: These preliminary data suggest for the first time that chronic vertebral hypomobility at L4 through L6 in the rat affects synaptic density and morphology in the superficial dorsal horn of the L2 spinal cord level. More definitive studies are warranted, and the biologic significance of these finding should be investigated.
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