Immune Cell Linked to Low Back Pain

Researchers have identified an immune cell that may play a role in low back pain associated with herniated disc.

Researchers at Duke University Medical Center identified an immune cell that may play a role in low back pain associated with herniated disc.

The immune cell is known as cytokine molecule interleukin-17 and according to Duke University Medical Center orthopedic surgeon William J. Richardson, MD, the finding supports the theory that an immune response plays a significant role in disc disease.

"By identifying the specific subpopulation of lymphocytes (immune cells that are excited into action by the cytokine), it may soon be possible to arrest the body's inflammatory response to disc cells," said Richardson, senior author of the research published online this week in the July issue of Arthritis and Rheumatism, in a press release.

New therapeutic treatments may be developed based on the findings.

"Mechanical forces may initiate the degenerative process, but biochemical inflammatory changes certainly play a role in disc pathology," said the study's first author, Mohammed Shamji, MD, PhD, in a press release. "Now we are learning which pathways we have to block."

Shamji is the senior neurosurgery resident at The Ottawa Hospital, Ontario, Canada, and participated in the research while at Duke.While anti-immune therapies have been used in the past to treat herniated disc, including injecting steroids into the space between the disc and nerve, the results have not been very successful, partly because these therapies fail to target a specific immune response.

The identification of IL-17 may have an impact in this area.

"It's a product of a specific subgroup of immune cells that are involved in auto immune phenomena like rheumatoid arthritis and asthma, but not in the body's response against infection or tumor. If you target this specific lymphocyte, you may avoid compromising the body's ability to protect itself against infection or tumor."

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