Intervertebral disc degeneration (IDD) is an important cause of low back pain. Recent evidence suggests that in addition to abnormal and excessive mechanical loading, inflammation may be a key driver for both IDD and low back pain. Obesity, a known mechanical risk factor of IDD, is now increasingly being recognized as a systemic inflammatory state with adipokines being postulated as likely inflammatory mediators. The aim of this review was to summarize the current literature regarding the inflammatory role of adipokines in the pathophysiology of IDD. A systematic literature search was performed using the OVID Medline, EMBASE and PubMed databases to identify all studies assessing IDD and adipokines. Fifteen studies were included in the present review. Leptin was the most commonly assessed adipokine. Ten of 15 studies were conducted in humans; three in rats and two in both humans and rats. Studies focused on a variety of topics ranging from receptor identification, pathway analysis, genetic associations, and proteonomics. Currently, data from both human and animal experiments demonstrate significant effects of leptin and adiponectin on the internal milieu of intervertebral discs. However, future studies are needed to determine the molecular pathway relationships between adipokines in the pathophysiology of IDD as avenues for future therapeutic targets.
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