Quantitative analysis of the anterolateral ossification mass in diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis of the thoracic spine.
Diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH) is a systemic condition leading to ossification of spinal ligaments and has been shown to behave similarly to ankylosing spondylitis (AS) often leading to unstable hyperextension fractures. Currently, no quantitative data are available on the spatial relationship between the bridging anterolateral ossification mass (ALOM) and the vertebral body/intervertebral disc to explain the propensity in DISH to fracture through the vertebral body instead of through the intervertebral disc as more often seen in AS. Furthermore, no reasonable explanation is available for the typical flowing wax morphology observed in DISH. In the current study, a quantitative analysis of computed tomography (CT) data from human cadaveric specimens with DISH was performed to better understand the newly formed osseous structures and fracture biomechanics. Additionally, the results were verified using computed tomography angiography data from ten patients with DISH and ten controls. Transverse CT images were analyzed to obtain ALOM area and centroid angle relative to the anteroposterior axis; intervertebral disc and adjacent cranial and caudal levels. The ALOM area at the mid-vertebral body level averaged 57.9 ± 50.0 mm(2); at the mid-intervertebral disc space level it averaged 246.4 ± 95.9 mm(2). The mean ALOM area at the adjacent level caudal to the mid-vertebral body level was 169.6 ± 81.3 mm(2); at the adjacent cranial level, it was 161.7 ± 78.2 mm(2). The main finding was the significant difference between mean ALOM area at the mid-vertebral body level and other three levels (p < 0.0001). The subsequent verification study showed the presence of vertebral segmental arteries at the mid-vertebral body level in nearly all images irrespective of the presence of DISH. A larger area of ALOM seemed associated with increased counter-clockwise rotation (away from the aorta) of the centroid relative to the anteroposterior axis. The results from the present study suggest a predisposition for fractures through the vertebral body and a role for the arterial system in the inhibition of soft tissue ossification.