eCM (Eur Cell Mater / e Cells & Materials) Not-for-Profit Open Access
Created by Scientists, for Scientists
 ISSN:1473-2262         NLM:100973416 (link)         DOI:10.22203/eCM

2021   Volume No 41 – pages 517-530

Title: Tungsten accumulates in the intervertebral disc and vertebrae stimulating disc degeneration and upregulating markers of inflammation and pain

Authors: MP Grant, CR VanderSchee, H Chou, A Bolt, LM Epure, D Kuter, J Antoniou, S Bohle, KK Mann, F Mwale

Address: SMBD-Jewish General Hospital, Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research, 3755 Cote Ste-Catherine Road, Room F-602, Montreal, QC, CAN, H3T 1E2.

E-mail: fmwale at

Abstract: Tungsten is incorporated in many industrial goods, military applications and medical devices due to its ability to impart flexibility, strength and conductance to materials. Emerging evidence has questioned the safety of tungsten exposure as studies have demonstrated it can promote tumour formation, induce pulmonary disease and alter immune function. Although tungsten is excreted from the body it can accumulate in certain organs such as the brain, colon, liver, kidneys, spleen and bones, where most of the bioaccumulation occurs. Whether prolonged tungsten exposure leads to accumulation in other tissues is unknown. The present study demonstrated that mice exposed to 15 ppm sodium tungstate for 4 weeks in their drinking water showed comparable accumulation in both the bony vertebrae and intervertebral discs (IVDs). Lumbar IVD height was significantly reduced in tungsten-exposed mice and accompanied by decreased proteoglycan content and increased fibrosis. In addition to catabolic enzymes, tungsten also increased the expression of the inflammatory cytokines IL-1β and tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-α as well as the neurotrophic factors nerve growth factor (NGF) and brain-derived nerve factor (BDNF) in IVD cells. Tungsten significantly increased the presence of nociceptive neurons at the endplates of IVDs as observed by the expression of calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) and anti-protein gene product 9.5 (PGP9.5) in endplate vessels. The present study provided evidence that tungsten may enhance disc degeneration and fibrosis as well as increase the expression of markers for pain. Therefore, tungsten toxicity may play a role in disc degeneration disease.

Key Words: Low-back pain, tungsten, intervertebral disc, degeneration, medical devices, pain.

Publication date: May 17th 2021

Article download: Pages 517-530 (PDF file)

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