The caudal discs of rats have been proposed as a puncture model in which intervertebral disc (IVD) degeneration can be induced and novel therapies can be tested. For biological repair, treatments for ongoing IVD degeneration are ideally administered during the earlier stages. The purpose of this study was to elucidate the optimal puncture needle size for creating a model that mimicked the earlier stages of IVD degeneration. According to the disc height index, histologic score, and MRI grading, a puncture needle sized 21G or larger induced rapid degenerative processes in rat caudal discs during the initial 2-4 weeks. The degenerative changes were severe and continued deteriorating after 4 weeks. Conversely, puncture injury induced by needles sized 25G or smaller also produced degenerative changes in rat caudal discs during initial 2-4 weeks; however, the changes were less severe. Furthermore, the degenerative process became stabilized and showed no further deterioration or spontaneous recovery after 4 weeks. In the discs punctured by 25G needles, the expression of collagen I was increased at 2-4 weeks with a gradually fibrotic transformation thereafter. The expressions of collagen II and SOX9 were enhanced initially but returned to pre-injury levels at 4-8 weeks. The above-mentioned findings were more compatible with earlier degeneration in discs punctured by needles sized 25G or smaller than by needles sized 21G or larger, and the appropriate timing for intradiscal administration of proposed therapeutic agents would be 4 weeks or longer after puncture.
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