Abstract: Intervertebral disc degeneration (IVDD) is a chronic, expensive, and high-incidence musculoskeletal disorder largely responsible for back/neck and radicular-related pain. It is characterized by progressive degenerative damage of intervertebral tissues along with metabolic alterations of all other vertebral tissues. Despite the high socio-economic impact of IVDD, little is known about its etiology and pathogenesis, and currently, no cure or specific treatments are available. Recent evidence indicates that besides abnormal and excessive mechanical loading, inflammation may be a crucial player in IVDD. Furthermore, obese adipose tissue is characterized by a persistent and low-grade production of systemic pro-inflammatory factors. In this context, chronic low-grade inflammation associated with obesity has been hypothesized as an important contributor to IVDD through different, but still unknown, mechanisms. Adipokines, such as leptin, produced prevalently by white adipose tissues, but also by other cells of mesenchymal origin, particularly cartilage and bone, are cytokine-like hormones involved in important physiologic and pathophysiological processes. Although initially restricted to metabolic functions, adipokines are now viewed as key players of the innate and adaptative immune system and active modulators of the acute and chronic inflammatory response. The goal of this review is to summarize the most recent findings regarding the interrelationships among inflammation, obesity and the pathogenic mechanisms involved in the IVDD, with particular emphasis on the contribution of adipokines and their potential as future therapeutic targets.
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